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Protesters in Munich on Friday float balloons bearing the images of the G7 leaders who will meet at nearby Elmau Castle on Sunday.

Joerg Koch/Getty Images

For the second year in a row, Russian President Vladimir Putin will be absent from the annual summit of the world's wealthiest industrialized nations and Stephen Harper is heading to the Group of Seven meeting determined to keep it that way.

German leader Angela Merkel is hosting this year's G7 gathering at Schloss Elmau, a luxury hotel and spa in the Bavarian Alps, and she has made fighting climate change a key focus of the summit – to build momentum for a UN conference to be held in France near the end of the year.

Mr. Harper, whose government has fallen far behind on targets for cutting greenhouse-gas emissions, and whom environmental activists accuse of paying only lip service to climate change, will do his best to steer discussion elsewhere.

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That means sticking to familiar ground for the Canadian Prime Minister and self-styled hawk: global security and the need to cut taxes, balance budgets and lower barriers to trade.

It was last year that the G7 kicked out Russia after Mr. Putin annexed Ukraine's Crimean peninsula, and 15 months since the United States, Canada and Europe have ratcheted up sanctions on Russia for rewriting the border with its neighbour and for supporting separatist rebels who are fighting a bloody war with Kiev.

Mr. Harper departed Friday on what is his final overseas trip before Canada's fall election, a tour of Europe he will use to try to burnish his credentials as an international statesmen with only about three months before federal political leaders are expected to hit the campaign trail.

Just before he left, Mr. Harper, the second-longest-serving leader in the G7, announced he doesn't think Russia should be allowed to rejoin the elite group until Mr. Putin is no longer in power.

The G7 meeting begins Sunday and to help set the tone, Mr. Harper will first stop in beleaguered Ukraine, under attack from Russia-backed rebels, to demonstrate solidarity with the ancestral home of more than 1.2 million Canadians.

In a clear violation of a February ceasefire deal, Russia-backed forces this week resumed fighting in eastern Ukraine using heavy artillery that was supposed to be banned under the Minsk agreement.

Ukraine wants G7 leaders to keep the pressure on Russia. Kiev's senior envoy in Canada said he's worried the Russians have adjusted to life under Western sanctions and that Moscow feels the West has insufficient consensus to impose more.

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This could make Russia more inclined to disregard the February Minsk ceasefire deal and let pro-Moscow rebels in eastern Ukraine resume their war against the Kiev government, said Marko Shevchenko, Ukraine's charge d'affaires in Ottawa.

"They have learned how to survive in this situation," Mr. Shevchenko said of the Russians. "They again have started to feel quite comfortable. This is a very dangerous point."

European sanctions on Russia are set to expire in a matter of weeks and will have to be renewed in order to put pressure on Moscow to abide by the Minsk ceasefire.

This week's bloody return of warfare in eastern Ukraine prompted Ukrainian President Petro Poroshenko to warn the country's military to prepare for a full-scale offensive by Russia.

The G7, however, has shown signs of straying from its hard line on Mr. Putin as sanctions have failed to alter his behaviour. U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry went so far as to travel to Sochi, Russia to meet Mr. Putin recently – a sign that the United States can't afford to completely isolate Moscow.

Fen Hampson, director of the global security and politics program at the Centre for International Governance Innovation in Waterloo, Ont., said the summit is a chance to "stiffen the spine" of European allies, including the French, who want to tread more lightly with Mr. Putin.

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"Some still want to ease the pressure on Putin despite the fact there is very little concrete evidence that he's doing everything he should to ensure Minsk [ceasefire drawdown] targets are met by the end of the year," Mr. Hampson said.

The Germans have laid out an ambitious plan to fight climate change that calls for renewable energy such as wind and solar power to make up as much as 45 per cent of Germany's energy mix by 2025.

The Harper government, by comparison, promised to cut carbon emissions by 17 per cent from 2005 levels by 2020.

But last fall, the federal government's commissioner of the environment warned there's increasing evidence "the target will be missed."

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