Stephen Harper pledges continued support for Ukraine
6-month international OSCE observer in mission in Ukraine begins
Canada's Prime Minister Stephen Harper, in Kyiv for a one-day visit Saturday, promised continued assistance to Ukraine and praised its new leaders for showing restraint in the face of Moscow's "obvious provocations."
After holding talks with interim Ukrainian Prime Minister Arseniy Yatsenyuk, Harper took aim at Russian President Vladimir Putin, who on Friday signed legislation to absorb Crimea into Russia.
Harper suggested the annexation, sealed after a referendum that followed a huge Russian military buildup in the Black Sea region, could inspire "other regimes" to arm themselves for regional conflict.
"For Ukraine, the consequences of the actions of the Putin regime are obvious and can only be remedied by their complete reversal," Harper said.
"Ukraine relinquished what nuclear weapons it inherited from the former Soviet Union on the basis of an explicit Russian guarantee of its territorial integrity. By breaching that guarantee, President Putin has provided a rationale for those elsewhere who needed little more encouragement by that already furnished by pride or grievance, to arm themselves to the teeth," Harper said.
He added that Canadians are "impressed" by the restraint shown by Ukrainians "in the face obvious provocations."
He reiterated his commitment to sanctions against Russian officials and said he and Yatsenyuk will work toward restarting suspended free trade talks.
"It is for Ukrainians and Ukrainians only to decide their future. In this principle Canada will not waver," Harper said.
Harper travelled to Kyiv along with Foreign Affairs Minister John Baird and Justice Minister Peter MacKay after taking a day trip from the Netherlands. By late Saturday Harper was back in Amsterdam to attend the Nuclear Security Summit on Sunday.
"He's really here to give a message of solidarity with Ukraine and the Ukrainian people, and to once again condemn the actions of Russia, of President Vladimir Putin, and the annexation of Crimea," CBC's Tom Parry said in Kyiv.
"This is more of a symbolic gesture, coming to offer Canada's support," Parry said.
As Harper arrived in The Hague on Friday night, he announced new sanctions against Russian officials and the bank that finances them.
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The economic restrictions and travel bans cover senior Russian bureaucrats, including the intelligence chief of the Russian general staff and more of President Vladimir Putin's aides and advisers.
The sanctions also forbid Canadian citizens and companies from doing business with Bank Rossiya.
'Push Russia out of the G8'
The head of the Ukrainian Canadian congress, who was in Kyiv with Harper, said he thought the prime minister had significant sway with the G7.
"I think he is highly recognized within the leadership of the G7, we've seen the kind of influence he's had even with President Obama," said Paul Grod.
"We hope to see that when he meets with the G7 on Monday that he'll be able to impress upon him personal first hand discussions and view of the situation in Ukraine, and convince him to in fact push Russia out of the G8 and make it a G7."
The European Union is increasing sanctions against Russia. EU leaders meeting Brussels on Friday added 12 more names to the list of 21 Russian and Crimean officials being hit with visa bans and asset freezes.
As for the U.S., President Barack Obama on Thursday ordered economic sanctions against nearly two dozen members of Putin's inner circle, as well as a major Russian bank supporting them.
OSCE observer mission
Meanwhile, monitors from the Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe were to in Ukraine on Saturday to try to reduce tensions in the country.
The OSCE, of which Russia, the European Union and the U.S. are all members, agreed to the six-month deployment on Friday.
At first 100 monitors will be sent around the country. But Russia's OSCE envoy, Andrey Kelin, said they will not be given access to the Crimean peninsula.
"They have no mandate there," he said of the Black Sea region, which was formally annexed by Russia on Friday, less than a week following a referendum in which the people of Crimea voted overwhelmingly to join Russia.
Despite the comments, Russian Foreign Ministry spokesman Alexander Lukashevich said in a statement that Moscow hopes the team "will help to overcome the internal Ukrainian crisis" and ensure the respect for human rights there.
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The Kyiv-based mission may later expand by another 400 personnel. It will initially be deployed in nine places outside the Ukrainian capital, including Donetsk, a major city in largely Russian-speaking eastern Ukraine.
The text of the decision mentioned reducing tensions "throughout" Ukraine, but did not specifically mention Crimea, leaving it unclear whether the observers will try to go there.
With files from The Canadian Press and Reuters