Skip to main content

Ukrainian President Petro Poroshenko looks duringa vote for ratification of a Ukraine-EU association agreement in the Ukrainian parliament in Kiev on Sept. 16, 2014.GENYA SAVILOV/AFP / Getty Images

Canada is slapping additional sanctions on Russia and pledging more than 300 election monitors for fall parliamentary elections in Ukraine – measures announced ahead of a visit by President Petro Poroshenko to Ottawa this week.

The Canadian government announced asset freezes and bans on travel to Canada against four senior officers in the Russian military, as well as economic sanctions against five more of Russia's arms makers and one Moscow-based bank. These actions match similar penalties imposed by European allies and the United States in recent days.

The sanctions come amid a fragile truce between Ukraine and pro-Russian separatist rebels in the country's east. On Tuesday, lawmakers in Kiev voted to grant self-rule to the separatist east and offer amnesty to rebel fighters under a peace plan drawn up 11 days ago to halt the five-month conflict.

Mr. Poroshenko is scheduled to address Parliament on Wednesday and thank this country and its 1.2 million people of Ukrainian descent for supporting Kiev as it battles Russia's efforts to break up the Eastern European nation. He heads to the United States afterward.

Foreign Affairs Minister John Baird said he does not believe that the West should relax sanctions against Russia, which has supplied arms, money and troops to the eastern Ukrainian rebels this year.

"The Putin regime's military aggression continues. For example, today we are seeing reports that President [Vladimir] Putin has ordered a surge of troops in Crimea, and we have seen no evidence of progress on our calls for the Putin regime to end its support to the armed militants fomenting violence," he said.

Also Tuesday, Canada announced that it is recruiting hundreds of observers to provide oversight for parliamentary elections this October in Ukraine. This will include as up to 190 sent directly by Canada and an additional 102 through the Organization for Security and Co-operation in Europe (OSCE) and the Office for Democratic Institutions and Human Rights (ODIHR) Election Observation Mission. As well, a delegation of up to 12 parliamentarians will join the OSCE Parliamentary Assembly Election Observation Mission.

Canada has sent election monitors to a succession of ballots in Ukraine over the years, hoping to help crack down on endemic corruption there.

But the federal government says it will not accept the status quo today, even if pro-Russian rebels make peace with Kiev. "Canada will never recognize Crimea as part of the Russian federation," Mr. Baird said, referring to the peninsula Moscow annexed in March.

"The most democratic elections in the world won't bring [Ukrainians] true freedom while a bully stands over them, threatening their sovereignty and territorial integrity," the minister said of Russia.

"What should we call someone who in recent weeks who has boasted to European Union leadership that he could, and I quote, 'Take Kiev in two weeks?'"

Mr. Baird said he believes that months of sanctions on Russia are taking their toll on Moscow. "While the Putin regime claims otherwise, news out of Moscow just today on the status of the ruble tells a very different reality," he said, referring to how Russia's currency dropped to an all-time low against the U.S. dollar as investors fret about the fallout of economic sanctions.

"There cannot be business as usual between Russia and the international community," he said.

Ukrainian Canadians are ramping up the pressure on Stephen Harper to provide military aid to their beleaguered homeland as Canada prepares to receive Mr. Poroshenko.

They are also asking Canada to take a leading role in winning membership for Ukraine in the North Atlantic Treaty Organization. The military alliance includes a collective defence pact that obliges members to come to the aid of allies under attack.

‎Mr. Poroshenko's trip comes as supporters of Ukraine continue to press Western nations for arms.

While NATO allies such as Canada have shipped non-lethal security equipment to Kiev, such as bulletproof vests and communications equipment, some have expressed reluctance to give weapons.

The Canadian Group for Democracy in Ukraine, in a letter to Mr. Harper this week, is asking Canada to relent and offer military assistance.

"Russia's military action against Ukraine means that Canada's generous words, humanitarian and economic aid are no longer adequate," the Canadian Group for Democracy in Ukraine writes. "We are certain that you and Canada's friends and allies know only too well that the threat to Ukraine requires military assistance."

Mr. Poroshenko is also expected to press Canada on the matter, the group notes.

"President Petro Poroshenko will undoubtedly raise this with you. We fully recognize the delicate balancing act that is involved in dealing with international policies of this magnitude and import. However, Russia is getting bolder by the day with overt offensive military operations and brazen political demands designed to usurp Ukraine's sovereignty."

The Canadian government also hopes to conclude an agreement with Kiev this week on the disbursement of a $200-million-plus financial package of loan guarantees for Ukraine first announced in March.

Ukraine publicly signalled in July how anxious it was to receive the hundreds of millions of dollars in aid that Canada promised this year to help stabilize its economy, weakened by conflict with Russia, and promote development.

Canadian officials have insisted on taking time to ensure that the right conditions are attached to the aid, including reporting requirements and restrictions on where the money will be spent, whether it is for banking-sector reform or anti-corruption measures. Corruption has plagued Ukraine for decades.

Mr. Harper was the only Group of Seven leader to attend Mr. Poroshenko's inauguration in June.

The Prime Minister has made the Ukraine crisis a central focus of foreign policy this year, slapping sanctions on individuals and entities linked to Russia's efforts to destabilize Ukraine and deploying a frigate, jet fighters and troops to a NATO mission in Europe designed to "blunt Russian expansionism" in the region.

With reports from Agence France-Presse and Associated Press