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Prime Minister Stephen Harper gestures while participating in a moderated question and answer session with the B.C. Chamber of Commerce in Vancouver, B.C., on Wednesday March 12, 2014. (DARRYL DYCK/THE CANADIAN PRESS)
Prime Minister Stephen Harper gestures while participating in a moderated question and answer session with the B.C. Chamber of Commerce in Vancouver, B.C., on Wednesday March 12, 2014. (DARRYL DYCK/THE CANADIAN PRESS)

G7 nations united against Russian occupation of Crimea, Harper says Add to ...

Prime Minister Stephen Harper again warned Moscow that the Group of Seven nations are united in their strong conviction that Russia’s occupation of Ukraine’s southern peninsula is illegal.

Speaking at the British Columbia Chamber of Commerce on Wednesday, Mr. Harper diverged from Canada’s trade agenda to speak briefly on the situation unfolding in Ukraine’s Crimea region, which will hold a referendum Sunday on joining Russia.

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“All of the G7 countries remain collectively and strongly committed to the view that we will not accept Russia’s illegal occupation of Crimea,” Mr. Harper said.

His comments come the same day Ukraine’s prime minister, Arseniy Yatsenyuk, meets U.S. President Barack Obama in Washington – a prominent show of American support – and as the EU shows a willingness to slap sanctions on Russia, despite some nations’ dependence on the country for energy supplies.

Earlier Wednesday, the G7 nations and the EU collectively urged Russia to withdraw its forces and cease preparations to annex Crimea, saying the referendum will have no legal effect due to the “lack of adequate preparation” and the “intimidating presence of Russian troops.”

In their statement, the group also noted that Russian absorption of the primarily Russian-speaking region would set a dangerous global precedent and threaten international order.

“In addition to its impact on the unity, sovereignty and territorial integrity of Ukraine, the annexation of Crimea could have grave implications for the legal order that protects the unity and sovereignty of all states,” the leaders of Canada, France, Germany, Italy, Japan, Britain, the U.S., the European Council and the European Commission said in their formal statement.

They also warned that if Russia fails to de-escalate the crisis and instead absorb Crimea, Moscow will face consequences beyond what the G7 and the EU have so far levied. “Should the Russian Federation take such a step, we will take further action, individually and collectively,” the statement says, noting annexation would violate various international agreements.

The G7 leaders have already agreed to suspend preparations for the G8 Summit planned for June in Sochi, where Russia last month hosted the Olympic Games. But far-reaching, coordinated measures beyond that – for example imposing targeted financial sanctions and travel bans on certain Russian officials – had been elusive until Wednesday.

Mounting a stronger response than expected, the EU has agreed to its first sanctions on Russia since the Cold War. The sanctions, outlined in a document seen by Reuters, would slap travel bans and asset freezes on an as-yet-undecided list of people and firms accused by Brussels of violating the territorial integrity of Ukraine.

German Chancellor Angela Merkel said the measures would be imposed on Monday unless diplomatic progress was made. The planned EU sanctions are similar to steps already announced by Washington, but would have far greater impact because Europe buys most of Russia’s oil and gas exports, while the United States is only a minor trade partner. The EU’s 335 billion euros of trade with Russia in 2012 was worth around 10 times that of the United States.

Ottawa has also banned certain Russian officials and other individuals from entering Canada and, together with the U.S., has explicitly threatened Moscow with expulsion from the G8.

Mr. Harper’s remarks and the G7’s collective rebuke followed Tuesday’s technical, exploratory meeting in London, which British officials hosted for the G7 countries, the EU diplomatic corps and Ukraine’s concerned neighbour, Poland. Canada sent senior Foreign Affairs legal experts to the meeting.

With a report from Reuters

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