Ukraine crisis leads to Canada expelling Russian soldiers

The Canadian government is imposing a travel ban against individuals deemed a threat to Ukraine as it continues to denounce the Russian occupation of the Crimean peninsula. The government also ordered nine Russian soldiers to leave Canada by end of Friday.

Ottawa imposes travel bans on 'a number of individuals' responsible for Crimean occupation

Foreign Affairs Minister John Baird speaks about the ongoing situation in Ukraine during a news conference in Montreal, Friday, March 7, 2014. He said Canada is working on a financial aid package for Ukraine. (Graham Hughes/The Canadian Press)

The Canadian government is imposing a travel ban against individuals deemed a threat to Ukraine as it continues to denounce the Russian occupation of the Crimean peninsula.

Foreign Affairs Minister John Baird said Canada is looking to take every political and diplomatic action to send a message that "it will not be business as usual" when "a sovereign country is invaded and occupied."

"That Soviet-style tactic may have been acceptable in the last century, but it's not acceptable in 2014," he said.

Baird made the comments Friday afternoon at a press conference in Montreal, where he is meeting with leaders of the city’s Ukrainian community.

The cabinet minister said he also spoke with the new Italian foreign affairs minister as well as his Turkish counterpart Friday morning, with all parties agreeing that Russia must respect Ukraine's sovereignty.

Prime Minister Stephen Harper released a statement Friday announcing the government will increase pressure for Russian troops to leave Crimea by "imposing a travel ban against a number of individuals responsible for threatening the territorial integrity and sovereignty of Ukraine."

"This ban will prevent these individuals from travelling to Canada," the statement said.

Harper announced earlier this week that Canada will also be imposing economic sanctions on members of the ousted Yanukovych regime, which will include the freezing of any assets in Canada. 

Baird told reporters today that Canada is working with its allies to develop sanctions.

The government is also working on a financial aid package for Ukraine.

Russian soldiers expelled

The government has also ordered nine Russians soldiers participating in military exercises to leave Canada by the end of today.

According to a government source, the soldiers were given notice on Thursday, just days after Prime Minister Stephen Harper announced he was suspending all planned bilateral activities between the Canadian Armed Forces and the military of the Russian Federation, including NORAD's Exercise Vigilant Eagle.

"There is a significant amount of military co-operation that Canada engages in with other countries," Baird said. 

"Obviously we have suspended all co-operations and all joint efforts and that involved, you know, giving the small number of Russian personnel who are here, the notice that they were no longer welcome."

There are six soldiers in Saint-Jean, Que., two at CFB Gagetown in New Brunswick, and one soldier in Gatineau, Que. 

National Defence spokesperson Melanie Rushworth told CBC News that the soldiers were in Canada to take part in language and training courses, "in the same way" that Canadian Armed Forces might train in other countries.

The government has also temporarily withdrawn Canada's ambassador to Russia. 

Russian Ambassador Georgiy Mamedov remains in Ottawa.

When reached, the Russian Embassy told CBC News it had no comment on the expulsion of the soldiers.

The government has said it will also be suspending Canada's participation in the Canada-Russia Intergovernmental Economic Commission, established to promote economic relations between Canada and Russia.

Referendum March 16

Canada has sent two military observers, part of the Organization for Security and Co-operation in Europe, to monitor the Russian military situation in Ukraine.

But the OSCE said Friday morning they have been refused access to Crimea.

“Military assessment visitors from OSCE States denied entry into Crimea on Friday, heading back to Kherson to plan next steps,” the organization announced in a tweet.

The Crimean parliament, dominated by ethnic Russians, voted Thursday in favour of the region joining Russia. They have set a referendum date for March 16, on which day citizens are able to vote whether or not Crimea will secede from Ukraine.

Western leaders have condemned the move.

"We will not accept, nor should anyone accept as legitimate, a referendum be called on 10 days' notice while the state is under military occupation," Baird told reporters on Parliament Hill Thursday afternoon.

"Russia has invaded Crimea. They're occupying it with military force. No referendum can have any validity while that is taking place. "

Baird repeated Canada's criticism of the impending referendum at his press conference on Friday, saying that "it's not valid and it's wrong."

He also acknowledged Canada's response is limited.

"The challenge is when you've got 16,000 to 30,000 troops potentially on the ground in Crimea, there's not a lot that we can physically do to stop it."