The apparent presence of Russian troops in Eastern Ukraine amounts to an "active invasion," Canadian Foreign Affairs Minister John Baird said, calling Russia's advance an "absolutely reckless" and "shamelessly dishonest" provocation leading up to a NATO summit next week.
Speaking Thursday, Mr. Baird emphatically rebuked the actions of Russian President Vladimir Putin and Russia's continued military presence in eastern Ukraine, though stopped short of announcing what else Canada may do about it.
"This is absolutely unacceptable, irresponsible and absolutely reckless. It is also deeply and shamelessly dishonest. While Russian President Putin talked about ceasefires with [Ukraine] President [Petro] Poroshenko in Minsk, his military was busy fighting on Ukrainian soil," Mr. Baird told reporters Thursday in a conference call from Croatia. "Russia's credibility was very limited after the dishonesty and deception over Crimea. Now, it is non-existent."
He labelled Russia's actions an "invasion" several times and called on Russia to " immediately cease its assault on Ukraine," respect the country's borders and territorial integrity, pull back its forces and end the flow of weapons and anti-aircraft devices across the border.
Prime Minister Stephen Harper and Mr. Baird will lead Canada's delegation to a NATO summit in Wales on Sept. 4 and 5, with Mr. Baird saying Thursday that the Russian escalation amounted to a provocation of the West in advance of the meeting.
"There's no doubt that Russia, [through] their subtle actions in eastern Ukraine, has [carried out] a very active intervention, a very active invasion. To do this a week before NATO leaders meet in Wales is a significant provocation and completely unacceptable. This will undoubtedly strengthen the resolve of all NATO leaders," Mr. Baird told reporters.
He highlighted Canada's months-long opposition to Russian advances in the region, but declined to say what new sanctions or response Canada may have.
"There must be repercussions for this blatant act of aggression. Canada stands ready with is international partners to take further measures to isolate the Putin regime," he said, later adding that Canada will "have to look at what measures [NATO leaders] think are required from the civilized world in this." Asked whether German Chancellor Angela Merkel and other key European leaders will have any appetite to push back against Putin, Mr. Baird said Ms. Merkel's response has grown "progressively stronger and tougher" and the issue will be discussed at the NATO summit.
Mr. Putin has also misled the West about Russia's role in Ukraine, Mr. Baird said – with, for instance, wire reports from the region Thursday saying that Russian leaders continued to deny an active military presence in eastern Ukraine.
"Worse than the invasion of Ukraine is the dishonesty that Russia has dealt with Ukraine and the world on this issue. That has undoubtedly raised the temperature," Mr. Baird told reporters, later re-emphasizing that Russia's inability to "deal honestly" with the West has amounted to "even a deeper diplomatic provocation" than the invasion itself.
Mr. Baird spoke during a trip to Croatia, Serbia and Albania. His comments come as Canadian CF-18 Fighter Jets prepare to join a NATO mission in the region. An Aug. 22 statement from the Royal Canadian Air Force said the planes have completed a training mission in nearby Romania after deploying there in April.
The "Air Task Force," which includes six CF-18s, will now move to Lithuania "to augment the NATO Baltic Air Policing mission" from September until December, a mission that includes "supporting Ukraine" and "promoting security and stability" in the region, the Air Force statement said.