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Russian President Vladimir Putin listens during his working meetings at the Novo-Ogaryovo residence outside Moscow, Russia, Friday, Feb. 28.Alexei Nikolsky/The Associated Press

Prime Minister Stephen Harper warned Russia could be expelled from the G8 over its provocative military moves in Ukraine, but the possibility of expulsion is in question since booting a nation from the club requires a consensus that so far appears elusive.

In his strongest language yet on possible retaliation against a defiant Moscow, Mr. Harper told a Toronto audience on Monday that Russian President Vladimir Putin has put his country "on a course of diplomatic and economic isolation that could well see Russia exit the G8 entirely." Earlier, he spoke personally with Ukraine's new prime minister, Arseniy Yatsenyuk, and reassured him of Canada's support for the nation's sovereignty.

"The situation in Ukraine remains extremely serious for global peace and security," he said at an annual convention of the Prospectors and Developers Association of Canada. "Canada and its G7 partners have spoken with one voice in condemning President Putin's military intervention in Ukraine."

While U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry has similarly said Mr. Putin could be stripped of his G8 membership, at least one G7 nation – Germany – has publicly expressed disagreement. And that's problematic, one international relations expert said, because expulsion requires a consensus.

"They have to be comfortable about who sits around the table," said Fen Hampson, a director at the Ontario-based Centre for International Governance Innovation. "All it takes is one country to say we're not going to go along ... If there's no agreement that expulsion is on the table, then no country should be putting it on the table. It's not credible."

After Mr. Kerry made his statement on NBC's Meet the Press, Germany's foreign minister made the case for allowing Russia to remain in the club.

"The G8 panel is the only panel where we Westerners talk directly to Russia, so should we really sacrifice this only panel?" Frank-Walter Steinmeier told German public broadcaster, ARD, according to Agence France-Presse.

Mr. Hampson said he believes Germany's reluctance stems from self-interest: aside from investment considerations, the country is heavily dependent on Russia for natural gas.

"They're not going to jeopardize that relationship," he predicted. "Russia's biggest ally, in terms of this particular issue, is Germany. Merkel has the closest relationship with Putin of any of the G8 leaders."

The G8, whose origins trace back to the 1970s, is an informal club of world leaders – there are no written rules about membership or non-membership, and decisions don't require any sort of parliamentary or government approval, Mr. Hampson said.

Should the G7 leaders choose to take unprecedented action and expel Russia, they need not convene in person, and would instead likely schedule a conference call to declare their unified position. The leaders could also choose to suspend Moscow for a period of time, Mr. Hampson said.

At the event Monday, Mr. Harper urged Mr. Putin to withdraw his troops from the strategic, Russian-speaking Crimea region, and said he has cancelled any government representation at the Sochi Paralympic Games in Russia and instructed officials to review all planned bilateral interaction with Moscow.

On Sunday, a day after Mr. Harper convened an emergency cabinet meeting to discuss the escalation in Ukraine, the G7 nations released a statement saying they had withdrawn from preparations for the upcoming G8 Summit in Sochi. Ottawa has also recalled its ambassador to Moscow for consultations and summoned Russia's ambassador to Canada for a diplomatic dressing down.

With a report from Kim Mackrael in Toronto

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