Prime Minister Stephen Harper to visit Ukraine next week
Christina Commisso, CTVNews.ca
Published Friday, March 14, 2014 5:37PM EDT
Last Updated Friday, March 14, 2014 11:20PM EDT
Prime Minister Stephen Harper will travel to Ukraine next week to meet with the country's new interim leader.
Harper is expected to visit Kyiv on March 22 to meet with Prime Minister Arseniy Yatsenyuk. He is the first G7 leader to announce plans to travel to Ukraine since the beginning of the crisis. His last trip to the country was in October 2010.
Harper’s visit will come days after a referendum will take place in Crimea, a Ukrainian region now under the control of pro-Russia politicians and militias.
The vote will see residents of the region choose between two options: to join Russia or to become an independent Crimea.
Canada and other world powers have already said they will not recognize the outcome of the referendum as it violates Ukraine’s constitution and international law.
"Canada remains united with its allies in recognizing the Government of Ukraine, and in supporting Ukraine’s territorial integrity and sovereignty," Harper said in a statement released Friday afternoon. "We will continue to work with our allies to support efforts to restore the country to stability and unity so that the people of Ukraine can thrive and prosper free of intimidation and threat."
Foreign Affairs Minister John Baird said Friday that Canada and the international community will not recognize the referendum, which he described as a "stunt."
"It is simply unacceptable in 2014 for an eastern European country to try to re-draw the maps of Europe through military force," he told reporters during a news conference in Ottawa. "It's unacceptable and I don't think anyone is going to recognize it."
Baird added that he doesn't believe Russian President Vladimir Putin understands “the full gravity of this situation."
Baird said Canada and its allies are giving diplomacy a chance to work, but added that he's "not optimistic."
"While it appears to be a remote possibility, we want to hope that Russia will choose to take a different course in the coming hours," he said.
While overseas, Harper will also attend the Nuclear Security Summit in The Hague, Netherlands, from March 24-25. After the summit he will travel to Germany, making stops in Munich and Berlin, for an official visit from March 26-27.
Canada announced on Thursday it was contributing $220 million as part of a broader international aid effort to promote sustainable economic growth and democratic governance in Ukraine.
Last week, the European Union proposed a $15-billion aid package, and the U.S. committed $1 billion. The new government in Kyiv has said it needs $35 billion for this year and next.
Yatsenyuk told the United Nations Security Council on Thursday that Russia is carrying out a "military aggression" that has "no reason and no grounds."
U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry met with Russia's foreign minister Sergey Lavrov on Friday in an effort to ease tensions. But Lavrov emerged from the meeting to say the Russians and the West have "no common vision" on the events in Ukraine.
He added, however, that Russia has no plans to invade eastern or southern Ukraine despite a continuing military buildup.
With files from The Canadian Press