Just one day after Russian President Vladimir Putin blamed Western sanctions for his country's current economic woes, Foreign Affairs Minister John Baird has announced that Canada will impose additional sanctions over the ongoing conflict in Ukraine.
During a year-end press conference on Friday afternoon, Baird said Canada would add 11 Russian and 9 Ukrainian individuals to the current sanction list, as well as new measures targeting Russia's oil and mining sectors.
"The ruble’s cliff dive should be enough to give President Putin and his backers pause," Baird told reporters.
"If he wants to turn his economy around, he must pull out of Ukraine, he must return Crimea, and he must respect the international order that makes us a family of nations."
Canada 'will not accept illegal occupation of Crimea': PM
In a written statement, Prime Minister Harper confirmed that Canada "will not accept the illegal occupation of Crimea and persistent, provocative military activity in eastern Ukraine."
"Since the onset of the conflict, the Putin regime has continuously violated the territorial integrity, sovereignty and independence of Ukraine," he said.
"The sanctions we have taken to date, in close collaboration with our allies and partners, are putting real economic pressure on Russia to cease militarism in Ukrainian territory."
Canada "stands ready to take further promised measures with our allies and partners if required," he added.
Harper also spoke directly with Ukraine President Petro Poroshenko earlier today, according to spokesman Jason MacDonald.
According to a note released by his office, the two leaders discussed the current situation in Ukraine, as well as a recent agreement on defence cooperation.
They also "expressed a commitment" to complete free trade negotiations between the two countries "as quickly as possible."
NDP questions 'inexplicable' omissions
New Democrat deputy foreign affairs critic Hélène Laverdière questioned why the new sanctions don't target some Russian entities and tycoons with reportedly significant business ties to both Canada and Putin.
"Sergey Chemezov runs military corporation Rostec, Igor Sechin is CEO of oil company Rosneft and Vladimir Yakunin is the president of Russian Railways," she pointed out.
"Companies like Rosneft, Lukoil, Surgutneftgas, Gazprom and Transneft have also inexplicably been left off Canada’s sanctions list" — despite, she said, having been sanctioned by other countries, including the United States and the EU.
The crisis in Ukraine last spring prompted a round of sanctions against Russia from Western countries, including Canada. The ruble is now plummeting, as sanctions take hold in the wake of a stubborn determination on Putin's part not to relent.
This week, the European Union prohibited investment in the recently-annexed Crimea region. Russian foreign minister Sergei Lavrov warned U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry earlier Friday that any ramping up of American sanctions could damage relations "for a long time."
'If it's Sony today, who will it be tomorrow?'
Baird was also asked about Sony's decision to pull its controversial comedy film "The Interview" from theatres following a cyberattack that the FBI has blamed on North Korea.
"Obviously, cybersecurity is a tremendously emerging issue for governments around the world, for private sector and human freedom around the world to confront," Baird noted.
"The implied threats that we've seen are not to be taken lightly. I'll leave it for others to analyze Sony's decisions. It may be a moot point when the four big distributors are refusing to put it in their theatres."
The implications for freedom of expression have raised serious concerns, he said.
"If it's Sony today, who will it be tomorrow?" he wondered.
"This is a huge issue of freedom of expression.
Now that this has happened once, he said, "the fear that I have is, what next?"
"The international community will have to work to address this."
Other topics covered during Baird's press conference included Canada's relationship with the United States, particularly in light of President Barack Obama's most recent comments on the Keystone XL pipeline, as well as efforts to combat ISIS militants in Northern Iraq and Canada's plans for resettling Syrian refugees.