Foreign Affairs Minister John Baird is headed to Ukraine to throw Canada's support behind Kiev's transition from its ousted pro-Russian president to an interim government charting a more pro-Western course.
Ukraine's parliament recently chose interim leaders, after President Viktor Yanukovych fled following scores of deaths in protests last week. But parliamentarians postponed the formation of a unity government until Thursday, and formal elections aren't scheduled until May.
Mr. Baird will lead a Canadian delegation to Ukraine beginning Friday and is slated to hold meetings with the "anticipated Ukrainian transitional government and civil society," the Prime Minister's Office said. "I think it's very important, given that the situation is still fluid, that we in the West – and certainly we who are friends of Ukrainian freedom – show as quickly as we can, and right on the ground, our support for what the Ukrainian people have achieved thus far," Prime Minister Stephen Harper said Tuesday.
The tumult in Ukraine has set up a diplomatic tug-of-war between the West, which has expressed support for the demonstrators, and Moscow, which has questioned the legitimacy of the interim government, saying it will find it difficult to work with "Kalashnikov-toting people in black masks."
Ottawa has a long-standing and special relationship with Ukraine, dating back to 1991 when Canada became the first Western nation to recognize its independence. This country is also home to more than 1.2 million Canadians who claim Ukrainian heritage, the largest number outside the boundaries of the former Soviet Union.
Just as Ottawa is throwing itself more squarely into the global conversation about Ukraine's murky future, Russia's ambassador to Canada on Tuesday implied Western nations are meddling in Ukrainian affairs.
"Our foremost goal is not to play any kind of geopolitical games, but to help our brotherly Ukrainian people get through this rough patch … without, of course, interfering into their domestic affairs like some other countries unfortunately afford themselves to do," Georgiy Mamedov told reporters hours before Mr. Harper's announcement, adding Russia has no plans for military intervention in Ukraine.
He went on to warn that countries involving themselves in Ukraine's political transition should remember the saying, "If you break it, you own it," suggesting they should be prepared to assist Kiev over the long term.
Mr. Mamedov also said Russia is optimistic Ukraine will restore order and become integrated into the European economy, while still maintaining close ties with Russia.
British Foreign Secretary William Hague urged Ukraine's new leaders to form an inclusive government that can encourage political consensus and work with both the West and with Russia. "In the U.S. and U.K., we don't see this in a zero-sum strategic sense. It is very important for Ukraine to be able to work closely with European nations, the European Union on economic co-operation, but also to be able to co-operate with Russia on many issues."
Ukraine was at least twice on Mr. Harper's agenda Tuesday. He met with Ukrainian-Canadian leaders and Conservative caucus members about the developing situation in Ukraine, now that Mr. Yanukovych – a Moscow ally – has been ousted as president. And he spoke with British Prime Minister David Cameron about how "the people of Ukraine must seize this opportunity to shape their own future," according to a PMO statement.
The prime ministers also agreed "every possible option" should be explored to support the recession-hit nation, including a potential role for the International Monetary Fund, which in 2010 approved a $15-billion loan to Ukraine. The crisis there erupted in the fall, after Mr. Yanukovych shunned deeper association with the European Union in favour of closer ties with Russia.
The Canadian delegation will include the head of the Ukrainian Canadian Congress and Conservative caucus members, including MPs James Bezan and Ted Opitz, and Senator Raynell Andreychuk, who headed Canada's 2012 election observation mission in Ukraine.
With reports from Paul Waldie in Kiev and Reuters