Harper suspends bilateral military activities with Russia

Russia's President Vladimir Putin and Canadian Prime Minister Stephen Harper before the first...

Russia's President Vladimir Putin and Canadian Prime Minister Stephen Harper before the first working session of the G20 Summit in Constantine Palace in Strelna near St. Petersburg, September 5, 2013. (REUTERS/Grigory Dukor)

Mark Dunn, Senior National Reporter

, Last Updated: 5:15 PM ET

OTTAWA — The Ukrainian flag snapped in a frigid wind on Parliament Hill on Tuesday in a symbolic gesture of support for a country under siege.

Canada and its international partners stepped up pressure on Russia to de-escalate the crisis gripping the Black Sea peninsula of Crimea, home to a significant Russian population and strategic naval base, or face more non-military reprisals.

Western leaders are poised to impose economic sanctions against Russia and are considering kicking Russia out of the G8 if a diplomatic outcome is unachievable.

Prime Minister Stephen Harper said Monday G7 countries are considering hosting their own summit in the coming weeks if Russia doesn't budge.

He also said that all planned bilateral activities between Canada's Armed Forces and Russia's military have been suspended, including a NORAD exercise called Vigilant Eagle -- which involves Russian, Canadian and U.S. Air Force personnel responding to a fictional scenario of a commercial airliner hijacked by terrorists.

"What has occurred, as we know, has been the decision of a major power to effectively invade and occupy a neighbouring country based on some kind of extraterritorial claim of jurisdiction over ethnic minorities," Harper said.

His comments were echoed by other world leaders, including the unanimous response that there is no evidence on the ground to substantiate the pretext used by Russian President Vladimir Putin to send in ground forces on the weekend.

"We haven't seen this kind of behaviour since the Second World War," Harper said, echoing Foreign Affairs Minister John Baird's reference to the annexation of the ethnically German Sudetenland region of Czechoslovakia in 1938.

"This is clearly unacceptable and it's our view that the world community as it reflects upon these actions will isolate Russia as a consequence," Harper said in the Commons.

For the first time since Russian troops entered Crimea, Putin spoke to reporters to explain his actions and warned of retaliation if Russia is strangled by sanctions.

Many believe Putin is holding the threat of restricting natural gas exports to those parts of Europe dependent on Russian energy resources as leverage.

Putin also said that force would only be used as a last resort, maintained that the provisional government in Ukraine is illegal and that the West was inflaming the situation and creating divisions within Ukraine.

He also objected to claims that Crimea has been overrun by Russian military, saying the troops are members of Crimea's self-defence forces.

Baird met Ukraine's ambassador to Canada, Vadym Pryystaiko, on Tuesday to express Canada's solidarity and efforts underway to help a country ravaged by years of corruption.

Pryystaiko said Ukraine needs $35 billion in immediate aid and suggested ousted President Viktor Yanukovich and his cronies plundered $12 billion.

Also, Canada's ambassador in Moscow arrived in Ottawa on Monday for a debrief after being recalled on the weekend.

On Monday, Harper said government officials would not attend this week's Paralympic Games in Sochi and that a review of all diplomatic and economic bilateral initiatives is underway that could lead to further sanctions.

Mark.Dunn@sunmedia.ca

Twitter:MarkDunnSun


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