Prime Minister Stephen Harper says the events that unfolded over the weekend in Ukraine are the work of "Russian provocateurs" orchestrated by the regime of Russian President Vladimir Putin.

Pro-Russian gunmen seized or blocked government buildings in at least nine cities in Ukraine over the weekend, demanding more autonomy from the central government and closer ties with Russia.

While Russia denied over the weekend that it is behind the violence, Harper charged Monday that the events are "strictly the work of Russian provocateurs sent by the Putin regime."

Harper said the situation in Ukraine "is getting worse" and that Canada will take further action.

Harper, Baird meet with NATO ambassadors

Prime Minister Stephen Harper, centre, and Foreign Affairs Minister John Baird, left, meet with Ukrainian ambassador Vadym Prystaiko in Ottawa Monday regarding the ongoing conflict in the Ukraine. (Fred Chartrand/Canadian Press)

"I know this is a great concern to our NATO allies in the region, but it should be a great concern to all of us," Harper said.

"When a major power acts in a way that is so clearly aggressive, militaristic, and imperialistic, this represents a significant threat to the peace and stability of the world, and it's time we all recognized the depth and the seriousness of that threat."

Harper's comments came in advance of a morning meeting with Foreign Affairs Minister John Baird and several ambassadors from NATO ally countries in Central and Eastern Europe, including:

  • Vadym Prystaiko, Ukraine.
  • Alexander Latsabidze, Georgia.
  • Marcin Bosacki, Poland.
  • Juris Audarins, Latvia.
  • Gita Kalmet, Estonia.
  • Milan Kollár, Slovakia.
  • Robert Tripes, chargé d'affaires for the Czech Republic.

"You can certainly be sure that Canada will take additional measures. We've already imposed a number of sanctions, and we will clearly be taking further action," Harper said as he sat with Baird and Prystaiko.

"We know how difficult these times are in Ukraine and how grave the threats truly are, but we also know that the resolve and the determination of the Ukrainian people for their freedom and independence has no limits."

Harper had harsh words for the Russian president saying, "We also know from history that anybody who makes it their historical mission to turn the clock back as Mr. Putin has determined to do, that those kinds of missions always fail in the end."

"But we will do all in our power to make it fail," Harper said.

Baird going to Europe to discuss 'further steps'

Harper said Baird will travel to Eastern Europe for "high-level consultations on what further steps we can all take."

Baird said, at a press conference following his meeting with Harper and the ambassadors, that he will be travelling next week to the Czech Republic, Slovakia, Poland, Latvia and Estonia "to discuss the situation in Ukraine and to re-affirm Canada's strong relations with their countries."

The Canadian foreign affairs minister also did not mince his words saying the recent events in Ukraine were "brazen and co-ordinated actions" by Russia.

"I don't know who the Russian Federation thinks it's kidding when it tries to pretend that it has nothing to do with them," Baird said.

'The arms that these people have are not stuff you buy at any army surplus store.'- John Baird, foreign affairs minister

Baird said there are "very clear and disconcerting parallels" between the developments in eastern Ukraine and those that took place before Russia moved to annex Crimea.

He told reporters "there's no doubt, for a good number of weeks, provocateurs and frankly thugs have been crossing the border" into Ukraine.

During an emergency meeting of the UN Security Council late Sunday, Russian Ambassador Vitaly Churkin denied that Moscow was behind the violence.

Baird said "the fiction that the ambassador at the UN was trying to sell just doesn't work, it's propaganda."

"The arms that these people have are not stuff you buy at any army surplus store," Baird said.

Civil war?

Ukraine's ambassador to Canada Vadym Prystaiko said the culmination of events in recent days and weeks could take his country into civil war.

In an interview airing Monday on CBC News Network's Power & Politics, Prystaiko said, "We have seen not just mobilization of the regular forces, we see that people have been sort of formed into these special forces, special units of civilians, and they've been handed over the weapons from the military barracks."

Asked if Ukrainians would have to defend themselves against pro-Russian gunmen, Prystaiko said, "We have to arm people."

Prystaiko said he would prefer it if people did not have to take matters into their own hands.

"I would prefer the police do this policing work. Or, I don't know, special forces fighting against terrorist cells or separatists," Prystaiko said.

Civil war is "very likely when you see that people are taking over the military barracks and disarming the police and handing over these weapons to everybody who wants to have [them]."

Ukraine's ambassador to Canada said there are "more and more" government buildings being taken over by what he called "separatists in Eastern Ukraine" on the orders of Russia's "provocateurs."

Prystaiko said the escalation is a result of "Russia's growing appetite" for more land and influence.

The ambassador spoke of the need for further trade and economic sanctions against Russia to show Moscow that "it's not business as usual."

Baird will travel to Egypt and Oman this week from April 17 to 20, before travelling to Central and Eastern Europe from April 22 to 28 where he will discuss the situation in Ukraine.