John Baird in Kyiv announces medical aid for Ukraine victims
Foreign Affairs minister speaks with ex PM Yulia Tymoshenko, and scheduled to meet other politicians
Foreign Affairs Minister John Baird called on all of Ukraine's neighbours to respect the country's territorial integrity at a news conference in Kyiv today.
"I am concerned at Russian military exercises so close to the Ukrainian border are not helpful at this time when emotions and tensions are running high," said Baird.
He went on to say he was heartened by Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov's statement that Russia would respect Ukraine's borders.
Still, Baird is worried about provocative actions taken by the Russians. In response to a question about the presence of armed men in Crimea, he said Canada is working with its international partners "to determine fact from fiction."
Earlier today, Baird announced $200,000 in medical aid for Ukrainians hurt in this month's political violence as he leads a delegation of Conservative MPs and Ukrainian-Canadian community leaders in Kyiv.
Baird is scheduled to meet with new Ukrainian prime minister, Arseniy Yatsenyuk, and the acting president, Oleksandr Turchynov. He met Friday with Yulia Tymoshenko, the former prime minister.
Speaking with reporters in Kyiv early Friday, Baird said he wanted to show Canada's support for the new government, "to support them on the transition to democracy, to elections, to support them in their economic needs."
"That's why we're here to do a lot of listening and to make it clear that Canada wants to play a part in their building a future," he said.
Baird has welcomed the appointment of the new government, although Ottawa says sanctions against Viktor Yanukovych's former regime are on hold.
However, a travel ban remains in place that prevents those with ties to Yanukovych from travelling to Canada.
The federal government says it wants to await the green light from the new Ukrainian leaders before deciding on sanctions.
"Minority rights will be very important," Baird added Friday. "I know the new government will want to build a country that's inclusive of everyone. They were citizens in a country where the government didn't take that view."
After his arrival in Kyiv, Baird toured the city's central square, called the Maidan, where thousands of people staged protests over the past few months demanding change.
Baird tweeted early Friday that it was an "emotional experience walking through the Maidan," adding, "I wish for peace upon the Ukrainian people, and mourn those lost."
Baird's tweet was accompanied by a picture of a white dove painted on the side of a stack of old tires.
After his tour of the Maidan, Baird and his entourage made their way to St. Michael's monastery. The majestic gold-domed church in central Kyiv acted as a sanctuary during the protests. Injured protesters were brought there for treatment during the height of the unrest.
Baird met someone at the monastery who was still receiving treatment and that is where he made his $200,000 announcement of medical aid. The money will be divided between the Red Cross and the Renaissance Foundation, a Ukrainian non-governmental organization founded by billionaire financier and philanthropist George Soros.
In an interview with CBC News, Ukrainian Canadian Congress president Paul Grod said Ukraine's problems are two-fold.
First he pointed to escalating tensions with Russia.
"It's a bit of a fifth column that is insiting a lot of this in Crimea. Quite frankly, Russia is right behind this," said Grod.
The second big problem for Ukraine is the deplorable state of the country's finances, he said.
"Former president Yanukovych left the country bankrupt. They have no foreign exchange reserves. They have very little international reserves. So the country is on the brink of bankruptcy," he explained.
Canadian opposition members weren't invited to travel with the Canadian delegation to Ukraine.
At a public event in Ottawa, Prime Minister Stephen Harper said he had spoken with German Chancellor Angela Merkel and they agreed they were supportive of the Ukrainian peoples' aspirations for democracy and a better future.
He also warned of the dangers of Ukraine possibly breaking up.
"We emphasize our very strong support and we emphasize this to all the countries in the region, our very strong support for the territorial integrity and the respect of the territorial integrity of Ukraine," said Harper.
Jason MacDonald, the prime minister's spokesman, said the Liberals and the NDP hadn't earned a spot on the trip.
He pointed to Liberal Leader Justin Trudeau's flippant joke about Ukraine last week, and said the NDP "wouldn't pick a side."
With files from The Canadian Press