Russia's ambassador to Canada says he was surprised no one bothered to speak with him about the crisis in Ukraine before he received a diplomatic dressing-down last Saturday, and added his country can always turn to China if the West follows through on threats of tougher sanctions.
In a wide-ranging interview with The Globe and Mail, Georgiy Mamedov insisted Russia wants to see the crisis in Ukraine resolved peacefully. And he said Western countries would largely be hurting themselves if they impose tougher sanctions or make good on warnings that they could boot Russia out of the G8.
Mr. Mamedov also slammed recent comments by Foreign Affairs Minister John Baird and Prime Minister Stephen Harper, who compared the Russian presence in Ukraine to the Nazi annexation of Sudetenland, in the former Czechoslovakia, before the Second World War. He called the remarks "deeply offensive," noting that tens of millions of Russians were killed during the war.
The long-time diplomat, who has been posted in Ottawa for 11 years, said he has had little contact with Canadian officials regarding the protests in Ukraine. "I was a bit surprised that the first time they summoned me to discuss Ukraine was last Saturday," he said, adding that conversation was "animated."
A spokesman for Mr. Baird declined to comment on how often government officials have spoken with Mr. Mamedov. But Adam Hodge wrote in an e-mail that Canada would "continue to voice our extreme displeasure" with Russia on a variety of levels.
On Thursday, the European Union announced it would suspend talks with Russia on an economic pact and visa agreement and warned that further sanctions could be applied if Moscow continues to behave aggressively in Crimea. The U.S. separately ordered targeted travel bans and asset freezes for individuals believed to be responsible for the occupation of Crimea, a pro-Russian peninsula in Ukraine. The sanctions are aimed at convincing Russia to back down in what has become a major geopolitical crisis that some analysts fear could lead to armed conflict.
At the same time, Crimea's parliament said it will hold a referendum to decide whether it would split from Ukraine and join Russia, a move Mr. Harper said Canada would not recognize under the current circumstances.
Asked on Thursday whether other members of the G7 were likely to agree to tougher economic sanctions against Russia, Mr. Baird would only say he is pleased with the unity the group has shown so far. Earlier this week, Canada suspended planned bilateral activities between the Canadian and Russian armed forces.
Mr. Mamedov called the idea of sanctions "disconcerting," but warned they wouldn't cause Russia to give up on issues of national interest. He also suggested Russia's relationship with China could help it weather the consequences of further sanctions, adding, "Those who think they can isolate us should look at the map for a change. Half of us is in Europe, but the other half is in Asia. And we have the longest border in the world with China."
Chinese news agency Xinhua reported that Mr. Putin and Chinese President Xi Jinping discussed their relationship and the crisis in Ukraine by phone, a sign that Russia is reaching out to a potential ally amid growing condemnation from global leaders.
China is Russia's second-largest trading partner, but Russia does significantly more trade with the European Union. Some EU countries have been reticent to impose tougher sanctions on Russia, including several that are highly dependent on Russian energy exports.
Mr. Mamedov said China is a strategic partner and ally for Russia, and the two countries are close on many issues, including Ukraine and Syria. "So if some countries would prefer not to buy oil and gas from us, the Chinese will buy everything. They're asking us."
The diplomat added that he believes Russia is an important partner in efforts to rebuild the global economy, pointing to the country's role as chair of last year's G20 and its shared interest in economic recovery. He said removing Russia from the G8, as some countries have threatened, would also hurt Western countries' national interests. "Trying to isolate us is like shooting [yourself], you know, in your own feet," he said.
With reports from Reuters and Kathryn Blaze Carlson in Ottawa