Foreign Affairs Minister John Baird urged Russia to avoid “provocative actions” in Ukraine as the country’s new government announced it was being invaded by Russian troops.
Mr. Baird told reporters during a conference call from Kiev that he was still working to determine “fact from fiction” but was concerned by reports about the presence of Russian troops in Crimea. He is in Ukraine this week for a series of meetings with the country’s new leadership.
“We’re tremendously concerned with the provocative actions that have taken place in the region by the Russian Federation,” Mr. Baird said. “Obviously, we’re working with the new government and with our allies to ascertain the difference between fact and fiction.”
He called on Russia to respect Ukraine’s sovereignty and territorial integrity and abide by the terms of a 1994 international agreement on Ukraine’s borders. “I am concerned that Russian military exercises so close to the Ukrainian border are not helpful at this time, when emotions and when tensions are running high,” Mr. Baird said.
He added that he welcomed a statement by Russian Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov indicating that Russia respects Ukraine’s territorial integrity.
Members of Ukraine’s new government are accusing Russia of launching a “military invasion,” saying Russian troops have assembled around a coast guard base and two airports in Crimea.
Earlier on Friday, Prime Minister Stephen Harper called developments in Ukraine “worrying” and pledged Canada’s unwavering support for Ukraine’s territorial integrity.
Mr. Baird told reporters that he has already met with Ukraine’s acting president, acting prime minister and new foreign minister. He also met with former prime minister Yulia Tymoshenko, who was recently released from jail.
He said he told the new government it will be important for them to remain united with civil society and to fight against corruption. And he promised Canada’s support on working with the International Monetary Fund and other countries on economic reforms.
Russia has accused Western countries of meddling in Ukraine’s affairs during the protests. Earlier this week, Russia’s ambassador to Canada, Georgiy Mamedov, told reporters his country would not interfere in Ukraine, “like some other countries unfortunately afford themselves to do.”
Asked about the possible repercussions of aligning Canada so closely with Ukraine’s new government, Mr. Baird said he makes no apologies for picking a side.
“Canada is not the world’s referee. We stand on the side of the Ukrainian people. We stand for peace, prosperity, security and freedom,” he said. “We expect the Russian Federation to honour the commitments it made in the Budapest Declaration and we certainly don’t apologize for standing with the Ukrainian people in their struggle for freedom.”
With a report from Kathryn Blaze Carlson