Prime Minister Stephen Harper visited Kyiv’s Independence Square on Saturday, becoming the first G7 leader to visit the epicentre of Ukraine's recent divisive protests.

Harper spent six hours in Ukraine, where he called for a "complete reversal" of Russia's annexation of Crimea, and suggested Russia should be booted out of the Group of Eight nations.

The prime minister, along with Foreign Affairs Minister John Baird and Justice Minister Peter MacKay, laid of large bouquet of flowers by a stone wall in the square where dozens of Ukrainians lost their lives, gunned down by their own military during the protests.

Earlier in the day, as he met with the new Ukrainian Prime Minister Arseniy Yatsenyuk, Harper took a stance against Russia’s aggression in Crimea, suggesting that the annexation could possibly set off an international arms race.

Asked whether Russia should be kicked out of the G8 permanently, Harper responded: "I don't think it takes much imagination to figure out what my view is, but I will certainly listen to what our partners in the G7 have to say before we arrive at final decisions.”

Yatsenyuk also jokingly made a pitch to replace Russia in the G8.

"If the G8 has an empty seat, we are ready to take it," he said, as the assembled media and politicians erupted in laughter.

Harper said Russian President Vladimir Putin has violated the 1994 Budapest memorandum, where Ukraine relinquished its share of Soviet nuclear weapons with the understanding that Russia would respect Ukraine’s territorial integrity.

“By breaching that guarantee, President Putin has provided a rationale for those elsewhere, who needed little more encouragement than that already furnished by pride or grievance, to arm themselves to the teeth,” he said.

Harper added that Putin’s actions in Crimea will be “felt far beyond” the borders of Ukraine.

“By his open repudiation of the Budapest Memorandum, President Putin has undermined international confidence in the protection afforded by such agreements.”

Harper also mentioned that Canada was the first western country to recognize Ukraine’s independence in 1991, and that it is home to the third largest Ukrainian population in the world.

“The Government of Canada has always stood with those who defend freedom, democracy, human rights, and the rule of law,” Harper said. “We are here today to reiterate our commitment to your independence.”

He added: “I think it is important that we in the free world not accept the occupation of Crimea, that we continue to resist, and sanction the occupation of Crimea, and that there be no return to business as usual with the Putin regime until such time the occupation of Crimea ends.”

Harper said Canada has already implemented economic restrictions, in addition to the:

  • suspension of preparations for the G8 in Sochi
  • suspension of the Canada-Russia Intergovernmental Economic Commission
  • cancellation of joint military operations
  • travel bans and sanctions on members of the Russian government and the former Yanukovych regime

“It is for Ukrainians, and for Ukrainians only, to decide their future,” Harper said. “In this principle, Canada will not waver.”

Harper heads to Netherlands for emergency summit

Harper will next travel to The Hague for an emergency G7 summit on Monday, where Harper is expected to push fellow G7 leaders to take a tougher stance against Russia.

The meeting will be held on the sidelines of the Nuclear Security Summit.

One global security expert says he expects the G7 leaders to discuss the sanctions placed on Russia by the West in wake of the annexation of Crimea.

"To date, (the sanctions) haven't had much of an effect," Fen Hampson, director of the global security and politics program at the Centre for International Governance Innovation, told CTV News Channel on Saturday.

"I think one of the challenges going forward from this meeting of G7 leaders is really to stiffen that package of sanctions so they do have some real bite," he said. "They should go after Russian banks, energy companies and the like, so that the West is sending a strong message."