Russia’s actions in Ukraine could lead to 'negative consequences': Baird
Published Sunday, March 2, 2014 1:55PM EST
Last Updated Sunday, March 2, 2014 10:24PM EST
Minister of Foreign Affairs John Baird says Canada is closely watching developments unfold in Ukraine and isn't ruling out future sanctions against Russia.
Baird told reporters Sunday that Ottawa strongly condemns the latest movement of the Russian military into the Crimea region of Ukraine, calling it an "incredibly provocative measure."
He warned that there could be future ramifications for Russian President Vladimir Putin as a result.
"Should President Putin continue on this provocative and dangerous course of action, it will lead to strong and negative consequences for our relationship," Baird said.
The minister said the government wouldn't rule out sanctions including freezing Russian assets, trade and investment penalties and visa bans. He noted that it was "essential" for Canada to work in concert with "like-minded friends and allies."
He added: "It's certainly something we'll consider in the next few days."
Baird, who recently returned from Kyiv, said the top priority for the Canadian government is to de-escalate the situation in Ukraine.
"What we want to do is de-escalate this situation, and we want Putin and Russia to back down from their actions," he said. "Obviously, we'll take it one step at a time and see where it goes."
Baird's comments come on the heels of a decision Saturday by the Russian parliament, which granted Putin permission to use military force in Ukraine. Russian forces swiftly moved into the country’s Crimea region without firing any shots. But the situation worsened on Sunday, as hundreds of armed men surrounded a Ukrainian military base in Crimea, and the country began to mobilize its own troops.
Calling on Putin to pull back his troops, Ukrainian Prime Minister Arseniy Yatsenyuk warned that his country is “on the brink of disaster.”
Meanwhile U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry called Russia’s actions an “incredible act of aggression.” Kerry said Sunday that the U.S. may consider a number of sanctions including visa bans, asset freezes, trade and investment penalties, and a boycott of the G8 summit in Sochi that's scheduled to take place in June.
Putin has yet to be deterred by such comments, insisting that Moscow has the right to protect itself against potential threats from a tumultuous Ukraine, as well as to protect the Russian-speaking citizens living in Crimea. Crimea was part of Russia until 1954, and about 60 per cent of its residents still identify themselves as Russian.
Baird swiftly rejected this line of reasoning Sunday.
"Simply put, none of the explanations that Russia and Putin are putting forward carry any weight," he said. "We disagree in the strongest of terms with the so-called justifications that are being put forward."
Baird's sentiments were echoed by Minister of Employment and Social Development Jason Kenney.
Suggesting that recent developments reflect the “history of Russian and Soviet dominance,” Kenney said Canada continues to support Ukraine’s sovereignty.
“We’re concerned about a tendency that reflects the history of the Soviet Union, which of course dominated Ukraine for decades. Ukrainian people have very clear memories of that,” Kenney told CTV’s Question Period in an interview that aired Sunday.
“I think the entire world -- and the entire Western world in particular -- needs to make it clear to the Russian government that we expect them to respect the territorial integrity of Ukraine,”
Canada had recalled its ambassador in Moscow on Saturday and warned Canadians in the Crimea region to leave. Prime Minister Stephen Harper also issued a statement calling for Putin to withdraw his military forces from Ukraine.
"We join our allies in condemning in the strongest terms President Putin’s military intervention in Ukraine. These actions are a clear violation of Ukraine’s sovereignty and territorial integrity. They are also in violation of Russia’s obligations under international law," Harper said.
But the Conservative government has stopped short of saying what type of action Canada might take against Russia in the coming days.
NDP Leader Tom Mulcair threw his whole-hearted support behind the government's response to the crisis.
"I think that Canada's been getting it right in terms of our very strong reaction to what the Russians have done," he told a news conference in Toronto.
"It's absolutely unacceptable to be violating Ukraine's sovereignty in this way and the prime minister and I have spoken and he has my full support with the steps that have been taken so far."
Baird said Sunday that it was important that the government take care to take "measured responses that actually will support the Ukrainian people."
With files from The Canadian Press