Stephen Harper has departed for Europe on a seven-day trip that takes him to the centre of the storm over Russia’s seizure of Crimea, one of the continent’s biggest crisis in decades.
The prime minister will be the first Group of Seven leader to visit Ukraine since the crisis there began. His plane left Ottawa around 9 am ET Friday.
Mr. Harper will also attend an emergency G7 meeting on Crimea on the sidelines of a nuclear security summit in The Hague and will later visit German Chancellor Angela Merkel, who has emerged as an intermediary between the West and Russian President Vladimir Putin.
The Conservative prime minister will travel to Kiev Saturday and visit with Ukraine’s interim government. He is also expected to visit Independence Square – the heart of the uprising that overthrew Ukraine’s pro-Russia government. In his visit to Russia’s doorstep, Mr. Harper will embrace the new Ukrainian government, which Moscow dismisses as illegitimate, and will stand with Ukraine in the struggle for Crimea.
The prime minister leaves Ottawa as Canada is looking seriously at levying punitive sanctions against firms in Russian business sectors over Moscow’s takeover of the Black Sea peninsula.
To date, the penalties Canada meted out over Crimea have only targeted individuals: travel bans and economic sanctions against key Russian and Ukrainian figures responsible for the occupation and takeover of Ukraine’s Black Sea peninsula.
U.S. President Barack Obama raised the stakes in the East-West confrontation over Crimea Thursday by targeting some of Mr. Putin’s closest long-time political and business allies with personal sanctions. Washington’s latest sanctions began to bite into Russia’s banking sector. One measure prohibits U.S. citizens or firms from doing business with Bank Rossiya, a St. Petersburg-based firm owned by associates of Mr. Putin.
Mr. Obama also signed an executive order authorizing sanctions against sectors of Russia’s economy, such as petroleum, that he warned would be enacted should Moscow move beyond Crimea into other parts of Ukraine.
Canadian government sources say Ottawa is also considering sanctions against firms in Russia’s business sector.
Mr. Harper is heading into next week’s Group of Seven meeting seeking to persuade his G7 counterparts to speak with the same degree of conviction on Russia, amid concern in Ottawa that not all members are publicly opposing Moscow with the same intensity.
The Canadian government expects the future of Moscow’s membership in the Group of Eight will be discussed at the meeting in The Hague. “You can expect the Prime Minister will articulate the view that we have to be steadfast in being strong in how we respond as a group of countries and have to stand our ground,” a senior Canadian government official told The Globe and Mail earlier this week.