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Prime Minister Stephen Harper speaks during a closing press conference following the Nuclear Security Summit in The Hague, Netherlands on Tuesday, March 25, 2014. (Sean Kilpatrick/THE CANADIAN PRESS)
Prime Minister Stephen Harper speaks during a closing press conference following the Nuclear Security Summit in The Hague, Netherlands on Tuesday, March 25, 2014. (Sean Kilpatrick/THE CANADIAN PRESS)

Harper rejects Russian lawmaker’s charge that Canada should back off Add to ...

Prime Minister Stephen Harper is rejecting a senior Russian parliamentarian’s contention that Canada has no legitimate reason to be playing such an active role in the Crimea crisis, saying the more than one million Canadians of Ukrainian descent gives him a mandate.

Alexander Romanovich, deputy chairman of the foreign affairs committee in Russia’s parliament, the Duma, told The Globe and Mail he believes Canada has no legitimate reason to get involved in the affairs of Ukraine because it’s so far away from the region. He charged that Ottawa is being unnecessarily provocative in its conduct on the file.

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Mr. Harper said Ukrainian Canadians are not merely a significant community in Canada “but they are all our friends and neighbours. I grew up with Ukrainian Canadians, who are some of my best friends. So I understand a bit about the history, a bit about what’s at stake here.” Mr. Harper said the reaction from Russia “says a lot” about the mentality of lawmakers in Moscow.

He said Russian leaders are wrong to suggest that proximity matters when it comes to violation of international law such as Moscow’s annexation of Crimea. The Prime Minister suggested it’s fallacious to say “that because something is far away that you have no concerns about people’s rights or their lives or the basic principles of international law but somehow if you are right beside them you have a right to determine all of these things without any reference to the facts or the principles or the agreements you’ve made as a member of the world community.”

Mr. Harper also noted that he’s hardly alone in censuring Moscow over its seizure of the Black Sea peninsula. “I think we’re united with our G7 counterparts in our response to this. We’re united more broadly with the European Union as a whole, with our NATO allies as a whole.”

The Prime Minister also lashed out at Moscow’s retaliatory sanctions against 13 Canadians, where the Russian government banned them from entering Russia.

He ridiculed Russia’s decision to go beyond targeting politicians and senior civil servants in Canada and also blacklist the leader of a Ukrainian Canadian community group. Paul Grod, head of the Ukrainian Canadian Congress, is among those now denied entry to Russia.

“They sanctioned a man for the sole reason that he’s Ukrainian,” Mr. Harper said of Mr. Grod. “What has he done? Is it a crime to be Ukrainian?”

Mr. Harper said Moscow’s decision to single out a Canadian because of his ethnicity is reprehensible.

“What does that tell you about the mentality of that government? What does that tell you about the reasons why Ukrainians fear so much the Russian relationship with their country and the Russian attitude to their country?”

On Monday, The Group of Seven industrial nations moved to further isolate Russian President Vladimir Putin over his seizure of Crimea, barring Moscow from its meetings and warning of co-ordinated economic sanctions.

The fresh censure of Moscow came as Ukraine told its remaining troops to leave the Crimean peninsula for their own safety and Russian troops forced their way into a Ukrainian marine base in the port of Feodosia on Monday.

G7 leaders, who met Monday for about 90 minutes on the sidelines of a nuclear security summit in The Hague, said they are suspending their participation in the Group of Eight and will instead meet as the G7 until Moscow “changes course.”

The G7, which stopped short of formally expelling Moscow from the G8, also warned it is prepared to slap co-ordinated sanctions on Russia’s business sectors if Mr. Putin escalates this crisis.

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