Stephen Harper, John Baird compare Russia to WW II era Germany

Foreign Affairs Minister John Baird repeated his charge that Russia's occupation of Crimea is like Germany's annexation of Sudetenland, Czechoslovakia, in 1938. Prime Minister Stephen Harper also described the situation as comparable to events during the Second World War.

Foreign affairs minister meets with Ukrainian ambassador who says he agrees with WW II analogy

Government, opposition in unison over Ukraine

10 years ago
Duration 2:20
Prime Minister Stephen Harper pulled Canada out of all joint military activities with Russia, and opposition parties find unusual agreement during today's question period

Foreign Affairs Minister John Baird has repeated his charge that Russia's occupation of Crimea is like Germany's annexation of Sudetenland, Czechoslovakia, just before the Second World War in 1938.

Prime Minister Stephen Harper echoed the remarks when he said in the House of Commons Tuesday, "What we've seen is the decision of a major power to effectively invade and occupy a neighbouring country based on some kind of extra-territorial claim of jurisdiction over ethnic minorities. We haven't seen this kind of behaviour since the Second World War."

Until yesterday, Conservatives had been making comparisons to the Cold War when speaking of Russian President Vladimir Putin's move to send troops to Crimea.

Harper also announced that all planned bilateral activities between the Canadian Armed Forces and the military of the Russian Federation are suspended, including exercises such as NORAD's Exercise Vigilant Eagle.

He informed the House of Commons he'd had discussions with U.S. President Barack Obama on the weekend about the possibility of countries in the G8 meeting somewhere else, after seven countries, including Canada, pulled out of an upcoming G8 meeting in Sochi.

Baird met with Ukrainian ambassador

Baird met with Ukrainian Ambassador Vadym Prystaiko in his office on Parliament Hill Tuesday. Prystaiko handed Baird a letter from Ukraine's interim prime minister to give to Harper.

Speaking to reporters after finishing the closed-door meeting with Baird, Prystaiko said he agreed with Baird's comparison to the German occupation of Sudetenland.

He pointed out that shortly after Hitler sent troops into the former Czechoslovakia and annexed Sudetenland, Germany crossed its border into Poland on the pretext that German citizens there were being shot at.
The Ukrainian flag flies on Parliament Hill Tuesday, the day after the House of Commons passed a motion condemning Russia's incursion in Ukraine. (Fred Chartrand/Canadian Press)

Prystaiko mentioned reports that Russian soldiers were shooting into the air in Crimea, adding that his fear is that once one side starts shooting, a war can be sparked.

Asked about Putin's remarks Tuesday morning about ousted former Ukrainian president Viktor Yanukovych's request for a Russian military presence in Crimea, he replied that was not constitutionally possible.

The decision to ask for military help, he said, can only be taken by the Ukrainian parliament and not by the president.

Pystaiko also criticized Russian ambassador to Canada Georgiy Mamedov for coming to the Ukrainian Embassy in Ottawa and signing a book of condolences, while at the same time insisting that Yanukovych was still the legitimate leader of Ukraine.

Asked if the government should expel Memedov, Prstaiko replied, "I don't know if it helps."

MP Chrystia Freeland is in Kyiv

Liberal MP Chrystia Freeland is in Ukraine, sent by her party because, she says, she speaks Russian and Ukrainian.

Liberal MP Chrystia Freeland, who speaks Ukrainian and Russian, is in Kyiv, Ukraine, this week on behalf of the Liberal Party. (Sean Kilpatrick/Canadian Press)

Asked about Baird and Harper's comparison of Russia to Germany during the Second World War, Freeland refused to directly answer.

"It's really important for me right now as a Canadian MP outside Canada in a country which is in grave jeopardy to present a united front with the government."

Speaking by phone from her uncle's house in Kyiv, she said, " I will say that people here in Ukraine are grateful for Minister Baird's visit. They are delighted that the Ukrainian flag flew in Ottawa today. I've heard people say that they are pleased about the recall of the ambassador."

She added, "So there's no dissent between me and the Liberal Party and the prime minister and the foreign minister on Ukraine right now."

Since Putin's occupation of Crimea the opposition parties have presented a united front with the government on Ukraine. Harper consulted with NDP Leader Tom Mulcair over the weekend, and Mulcair was spotted entering Harper's office late Tuesday.

Freeland said she hopes to talk to as many people as she can and report back to the Liberal Party. She described Ukraine as being on a war footing.

"All the men I have spoken to between 18 and 55 have gone to register in the local military district to be ready to be called up. Ukrainians very very much hope it won't come to that. But after the events in Crimea, they're ready for anything."

'We are all Ukrainians now'

Freeland thinks you don't have to be Ukrainian-Canadian to be intensely interested in Ukraine's struggle for democracy.

"In a sense we are all Ukrainians now," she said. 

Freeland spoke of how calm and organized Kyiv is. "The government has basically melted away. And what's formed in its place is self organized. People feel a real responsibility for the country, partially because it was the choice of the people to get rid of the Yanukovych regime."

People were surprised by Putin's "instant aggression" in occupying Crimea, but, "One person said to me, Putin is going to do more to unite Ukraine than any leader in history."

Putin has spoken at times about the need to protect Russian language rights in Ukraine, implying Russian speakers could be subject to discrimination. Freeland called that "the single biggest myth about what's happening in Ukraine."

"I would guess 95 per cent of Ukrainians are perfectly fluent in Russian and probably 80 per cent of Ukrainians are probably also fluent in Ukrainian. It's quite common on Ukrainian television to have one person speaking Ukrainian and another person speaking Russian.

"I think that is a really trumped up charge from Russia. Look, Putin is looking for a justification to interfere in Ukraine. He lost, he lost his bet on Yanukovych."

There is a great feeling of ownership in Ukraine now, she says. As a former journalist, she's thrilled that Ukrainian investigative journalists are combing through Yunukovych's 140-hectare luxury estate in Mezhyhirya.

"I think a lot of revelations will be coming," she said.