'We don't apologize for standing with Ukrainian people,' Baird says
Canada’s Foreign Affairs Minister John Baird is calling on Ukraine’s neighbours to respect the country’s sovereignty amid fears that Russian troops are taking over the Crimean peninsula.
But he said he’s not “going to get into hypotheticals” when it comes to Canada’s involvement in a potential international response to the Ukrainian crisis.
Speaking to reporters Friday from Kyiv, where he’s leading a delegation of Conservative MPs and Ukrainian-Canadian community leaders, Baird said he’s concerned about Russian military exercises close to the Ukrainian border.
Baird met with the new Ukrainian Prime Minister Arseniy Yatsenyuk and acting president Oleksandr Turchynov, among others, and said everyone is “tremendously concerned by provocative actions.”
Yatsenyuk and Turchynov assumed their positions in government after the Ukrainian parliament voted to oust President Viktor Yanukovych, who then fled Kyiv.
Russia has insisted that its military exercises were planned before the crisis in Ukraine escalated, but members of the acting Ukrainian government have accused Russian troops of trying to take control of some airports in the southern region of Crimea, which is strongly pro-Russian.
“We must all work together to support Ukraine,” Baird said.
Asked how Ottawa’s support for anti-government protesters and condemnation of Yanukovych’s regime may affect diplomatic relations, Baird replied: “Canada is not the world’s referee … We certainly don’t apologize for standing with the Ukrainian people in their struggle for freedom.”
Baird said he welcomes Russian Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov’s statement that Russia would respect Ukraine's territorial sovereignty.
Baird has also met with former Ukrainian prime minister Yulia Tymoshenko, who was recently released from a prison hospital, as well as representatives of the EuroMaidan civil society and some religious groups in Ukraine.
During his visit, Baird toured the Maidan, Kyiv’s Independence Square, where dozens of protesters were killed in recent weeks as clashes between demonstrators and police intensified.
He tweeted Friday that it was an "emotional experience.”
Baird has also pledged $200,000 to help Maidan clinics care for injured and wounded civilians.
Earlier Friday, Prime Minister Stephen Harper said Canada supports and respects the “territorial integrity of Ukraine” and wants to send that message to Ukraine’s neighbours.
“We remain very supportive of the Ukrainian people and their desire for democracy and a better future and given developments that we see that are worrying to us, I think it is important that, as Canadians, we emphasize our very strong support,” he said at an event in Toronto.
“We emphasize this to all the countries in the region,” he added, without specifically naming Russia.
Harper also said he has spoken to German Chancellor Angela Merkel about the Ukrainian crisis.
Meanwhile, British Prime Minister David Cameron phoned Russian President Vladimir Putin to emphasize the importance of Ukraine’s sovereignty, a spokesperson told British media.
Putin reportedly agreed with Cameron and insisted, once again, that Russia’s military exercises were planned before the situation in Ukraine deteriorated.
U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry also called Russia's foreign minister Friday to express concern over military activity in Crimea.
With files from The Canadian Press and The Associated Press