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Harper dismisses Crimean referendum, says G7 will tighten sanctions

A demonstrator takes part in a protest against the referendum in Ukraine's Crimea region outside the Russian embassy in Ottawa on March 16, 2014.


Canada and its G7 allies will slap further sanctions on Russians threatening Ukraine's sovereignty, after what Ottawa dismissed as an illegal "so-called referendum" in the breakaway Crimea region.

In some of his strongest language yet, Prime Minister Stephen Harper said the results of Sunday's vote – more than 95 per cent in favour of leaving Ukraine for Russia, according to Russian state media – reflect nothing more than Moscow's military hold there.

"This 'referendum' is illegitimate, it has no legal effect, and we do not recognize its outcome," Mr. Harper, who will travel to Ukraine this week, said in a statement Sunday evening. "As a result of Russia's refusal to seek a path of de-escalation, we are working with our G7 partners and other allies to co-ordinate additional sanctions against those responsible."

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The EU and the U.S. have said they could retaliate against Moscow as early as Monday, and Ottawa has said financial sanctions remain on the table.

"[Russian President Vladimir Putin's] reckless and unilateral actions will lead only to Russia's further economic and political isolation from the international community," Mr. Harper said.

Ottawa has already banned certain Russian officials and other individuals from entering Canada, and has frozen assets belonging to members of the former Ukrainian government, including ousted president Viktor Yanukovych.

On Friday, the Prime Minister announced he will make a historic trip to Ukraine this week – a symbolic show of support for the post-revolutionary government that will make him the first G7 leader to travel to the former Soviet state since the crisis erupted.

Mr. Harper's March 22 meeting in Kiev with Prime Minister Arseniy Yatsenyuk could coincide with military clashes in the south and violence between pro-Russia and pro-Ukraine protesters in the east. The defence ministries in Russia and Ukraine agreed Sunday to a truce in the southern Crimea region, but that agreement is so far slated to expire March 21.

Foreign Affairs Minister John Baird, who spoke with his Polish counterpart over the weekend, released a statement Saturday evening blaming "pro-Russia groups" for recent violence in eastern Ukraine.

The Prime Minister's Office said Sunday Mr. Harper's trip will go ahead as planned.

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With a report from Reuters

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