Russia's ambassador to Canada says NATO has no role to play in resolving the crisis in Ukraine as pro-Russian separatists in the country's east prepare for a referendum that is stoking fears of more violence.
Georgiy Mamedov told reporters Thursday that the military alliance's involvement could make it more difficult for Russia and the West to find a diplomatic solution to tensions over Ukraine. Earlier this week, NATO's supreme allied commander for Europe, Philip Breedlove, said the alliance should consider stationing troops in Eastern Europe on a permanent basis in light of Russia's aggression in Ukraine.
Mr. Mamedov said NATO appears to be looking for an "artificial reason" to justify its existence. "I only am concerned that it will make it more difficult for us and the Americans and Germans and others to find a diplomatic solution," he said.
The long-time ambassador to Canada also suggested Ottawa is not a serious player in dealing with the crisis in Ukraine. "I prefer serious players who are involved in resolving the issues and not in exacerbating them," he said. " ... I hope that Canada will re-join the club of serious players who are now involved in finding a political solution for this very tragic situation."
Mr. Mamedov's comments came as Moscow announced a new round of sanctions against Canada and the United States on Thursday. Russian foreign ministry spokesman Alexander Lukashevich said in a statement that his government will not name the individuals who were most recently added to the list. Instead, those who have been barred "will find out when they apply for a visa."
Moscow said the new sanctions were issued in retaliation for measures that were previously announced by the Canadian and U.S. governments. Earlier this week, the Canadian government said it would add 16 Russian "entities" to a list of businesses and people already facing visa bans and asset freezes. The U.S. has placed similar sanctions Russian individuals and businesses.
Asked why Russia was not naming the individuals it had added to its sanctions list, Mr. Mamedov replied that "it will be a nice surprise" for those who apply for visas and find out they're on the list.
The latest sanctions came one day after Russian President Vladimir Putin appeared to be taking a step back from recent aggression by calling on pro-Russian separatists in eastern Ukraine to postpone an independence referendum and announcing a troop withdrawal from the Ukrainian border.
However, NATO said it not seen signs of a Russian withdrawal. And separatists in Eastern Ukraine said Thursday that they would hold their referendum on Sunday as planned, despite Mr. Putin's comments, fuelling growing concern that the country could break out in civil war.
U.S. Deputy Secretary of State William Burns called the situation "extremely combustible" and warned that Russia was heading down a "dangerous and irresponsible path."
With a report from Reuters