Stephen Harper is returning to Ukraine this week to show support for Kiev’s newly-elected president, a former candy tycoon who is struggling to get his country back on a stable economic footing while battling pro-Russian separatists in the east and south.
Mr. Harper will cap a five-day trip to Europe by flying to Kiev for the Saturday swearing-in ceremony of Petro Poroshenko, a businessman who was elected Ukraine’s new president in late May elections.
The prime minister’s visit to Kiev will follow days of meetings dominated by the question of how to best help Ukraine and how to stand up to a new aggressive Russia which shows no intention of relinquishing Ukraine’s Black Sea peninsula after illegally seizing it earlier this year. Mr. Harper will first meet with Polish prime minister Donald Tusk, whose country borders Ukraine, and then cobble together more support for Ukraine at a Group of Seven leaders meeting in Brussels.
Mr. Poroshenko’s democratic election fills a void left by former president Viktor Yanukovych who fled Ukraine earlier this year. He was chased out of office by a popular uprising sparked by his decision to balk at closer ties with the European Union and instead forge a deeper alliance with Russia. Moscow responded to this crisis by stationing tens of thousands troops along the border with Ukraine and seizing the Crimean peninsula.
Kiev calls armed insurgents that are now causing havoc in Ukraine’s eastern and southern regions terrorists and accuses Moscow of giving them direction and support.
Among other immediate challenges, Mr. Poroshenko must soon reach a deal with Russian gas export monopoly Gazprom to keep petroleum flowing to Ukraine. Gazprom gave Ukraine an extra week to reach a deal on settling unpaid bills and beginning advance payments. Failure in these talks could mean Russia cuts off supplies.
The prime minister’s visit to Kiev later this week will be Mr. Harper’s second visit to Ukraine since the outset of the crisis there.
Mr. Harper has emerged as the most vocal hawk on the Ukraine crisis among the leaders of G7 industrialized nations. Canada slapped sanctions against over 100 individuals and companies it deems responsible for efforts to destabilize the Eastern European country including many players in Russian president Vladimir Putin’s inner circle.
The Canadian government contributed hundreds of observers to help monitor the May presidential election and has provided funds to help Ukraine implement economic reforms.