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Russian President Vladimir Putin takes part in a nationally televised question-and-answer session in Moscow on April 17, 2014. (ALEXEI NIKOLSKY/ASSOCIATED PRESS)
Russian President Vladimir Putin takes part in a nationally televised question-and-answer session in Moscow on April 17, 2014. (ALEXEI NIKOLSKY/ASSOCIATED PRESS)

Russia orders Canadian diplomat to leave country Add to ...

Moscow has ordered a Canadian envoy to leave Russia amid an ongoing feud over the recognition of diplomatic staff in both countries.

The move comes as Russian President Vladimir Putin said his country should step up its presence in the Arctic and challenge other nations for control of the region’s vast supply of natural resources. Western governments are eyeing Russia’s aspirations in the Arctic with suspicion, in large part because of Moscow’s provocative role in the crisis in Ukraine.

A Canadian government source said Tuesday that the person who was expelled from the Canadian embassy in Moscow worked as the first secretary for immigration. A website for the embassy lists a “M. Atanasov” in that role, and a Russian news agency identified the expelled diplomat as Margarita Atanasov.

The decision to expel Ms. Atanasov followed a series of tit-for-tat expulsions by Canadian and Russian officials in recent months. Two weeks ago, Canada expelled Russian military attaché Lieutenant-Colonel Yury Bezler to “send a message” to Moscow over the issue.

At the time of Mr. Bezler’s expulsion, sources told The Globe and Mail that the feud began when Canada refused to grant visas to some Russian diplomatic staff because officials did not believe those individuals would be employed as envoys. Russia later retaliated by expelling a low-level Canadian diplomat from his post in Moscow, and Canada, in turn, expelled Lt.-Col. Bezler earlier this month.

A spokesman for the Department of Foreign Affairs and International Trade said the department does not comment on the status of diplomatic personnel.

On Tuesday, Mr. Putin told a meeting of his Security Council in the Kremlin that Russia should strengthen its presence in the Arctic. Russia has staked its future economic growth on developing the Arctic and reviving a shipping route through the ice. Other northern nations, including Canada, are also angling to exploit natural resources in the region.

Canada skipped a working-group meeting of the Arctic Council last week because it was held in Moscow, but said it would continue to support its work. The council is a multilateral forum intended to facilitate dialogue on the Arctic between the eight Arctic states.

On the same day the government announced its withdrawal from the Arctic Council working group meeting, a government source indicated that Russia’s ambassador to Canada had been called in for a dressing down on his country’s actions in Ukraine.

In recent months, Canada has placed economic sanctions and travel bans on a number of Russian officials and a Russian bank. Moscow, in turn, has banned 13 Canadians from travelling to Russia, including politicians, civil servants and the head of the Ukrainian Canadian Congress. Ottawa also halted bilateral activities between the Canadian and Russian armed forces and joined other G7 nations in refusing to participate in the planned G8 summit in Sochi.

During a speech in Toronto on Tuesday, Russia’s ambassador to Canada blamed Ottawa for initiating the sanctions, saying Russia was forced to apply its own sanctions in retaliation. “We don’t want these sanctions, we didn’t start them,” Georgiy Mamedov said. “But we have to reciprocate so people won’t believe that they can just throw us around.”

Asked about the latest diplomatic expulsion, Mr. Mamedov noted that Canada had previously kicked out a Russian diplomat. “So probably we also kicked out some military spy from Moscow," he said.

Canada has kicked out Russian diplomats before the recent tit-for-tat expulsions. In 2012, Russian diplomats were asked to leave after a Canadian naval intelligence officer admitted to spying for Moscow.

Follow on Twitter: @kimmackrael

 

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