Canada suspends military activity with Russia 'effective immediately'
Andrea Janus, CTVNews.ca
Published Tuesday, March 4, 2014 11:08AM EST
Last Updated Tuesday, March 4, 2014 8:11PM EST
Canada ramped up its response to the situation in Ukraine Tuesday, as Prime Minister Stephen Harper announced that all planned bilateral military activities with Russia have been “suspended.”
“I have this morning directed that, effective immediately, all planned bilateral activities between the Canadian Armed Forces and the military of the Russian Federation be suspended. This includes exercises, such as NORAD’s Exercise Vigilant Eagle, and scheduled meetings,” Harper said in a statement.
“We continue to view the situation in Ukraine with the gravest concern and will continue to review our relations with President Putin’s government accordingly.”
Later Tuesday during question period in the House of Commons, Harper reiterated that all G8 members have suspended their preparations for what was to be the next meeting in Sochi, scheduled for June, and suggested that members are considering holding a meeting without Russia.
“In terms of a G7 meeting, I spoke to (U.S.) President (Barack) Obama on that on the weekend. I suggested that, and I know there are discussions…of the possibility of a G7 meeting in the upcoming weeks,” Harper said.
The prime minister also said that given the ongoing crisis in Ukraine, “all of our economic and diplomatic bilateral relationship with Russia is under examination, will continue to be under examination and, working in concert with our allies, we will continue to search for ways to apply ongoing pressure and isolation to the Putin regime until such time as it reverses its course of action.”
Harper’s announcements come as tensions remain high over the crisis in Ukraine. Over the weekend, Russian forces moved into the Crimean peninsula and took control of its ferry, as well as military bases and border posts. Russian Navy ships are also blocking two Ukrainian warships in the Crimean port of Sevastopol.
The moves came after months of pro-democracy protests in Ukraine turned violent, killing nearly 100 people and sending President Viktor Yanukovych into hiding. The Ukrainian Parliament appointed an interim president and prime minister until elections can be held.
Earlier Tuesday, Russian President Vladimir Putin attempted to defend his military’s incursion in the Crimean peninsula, saying he is trying to protect Russian-speaking people in Ukraine and has no desire “to fight the Ukrainian people.”
Putin agreed to a special meeting in Brussels to discuss the situation.
Meanwhile, the Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe announced it will send observers to Ukraine as early as Wednesday, with the intention of making their way to Crimea.
Canada’s Foreign Affairs Minister John Baird said Tuesday Canada “welcomes” the decision to send observers to Ukraine. However, Canada has yet to say whether it, too, will send a contingent.
Baird met with Ukraine’s Ambassador to Canada, Vadym Prystaiko, Tuesday, and in prepared remarks, compared Putin’s move to Germany’s claim to the Sudetenland, western Czechoslovakia, in the run-up to World War II.
“Canada can never accept, and the international community can never accept, ethnic nationalist justification for invading a peaceful, democratic neighbour,” Baird said before his meeting with Prystaiko.
“It’s not lost on the rest of the world that the same argument was made before the Second World War on the annexation of the Sudetenland in Czechoslovakia in 1938. We will continue to call on President Putin to withdraw all of his forces to their bases and to refrain from further provocative action in this part of the world.”
Prystaiko thanked Canada for its ongoing support during the crisis, and said Ukraine believes “there is a chance for a diplomatic solution.”
Prystaiko said a threat to turf Russia from the G8 is one that Putin will take seriously.
“The G8 is an important mechanism, and Russians are happy to be there in the company of those people,” he told reporters on Parliament Hill. “I believe he listened to the message from Canada and other G8 members and understands the gravity of this.”
Observers from the International Monetary Fund are also on the ground in Ukraine to assess the country’s financial picture, and Prystaiko said aid from Canada and the rest of the world is urgently needed. Prystaiko said the country has a $35-billion debt that needs to be paid.
“We’d like Canada to do something,” he said. “We’d like to ask the European partners to do more, because really we need a lot more immediately.”