Harper first Western leader heading to Ukraine since crisis

Canadian Prime Minister Stephen Harper (right) participates in a question and answer session with...

Canadian Prime Minister Stephen Harper (right) participates in a question and answer session with John Winter, President and CEO of the BC Chamber of Commerce, (left) in Vancouver, B.C. on Wednesday March 12, 2014. (Carmine Marinelli/QMI Agency)

Mark Dunn, Senior National Reporter

, Last Updated: 6:38 PM ET

OTTAWA -- Prime Minister Stephen Harper is set to head to Ukraine on March 22 after the West failed Friday to block a referendum that will likely see Crimeans vote to join the Russian Federation.

Harper's stopover next weekend amid tensions over growing military intervention in the area and escalating clashes between pro-Russia demonstrators and Ukrainian nationalists is to show solidarity with the interim government, said Foreign Affairs Minister John Baird.

A last-ditch effort by the Americans to sway Russian President Vladimir Putin to scuttle Sunday's vote on the Black Sea peninsula was rejected Friday and the ballot will proceed.

Its outcome will be recognized by Russia, but ignored by Canada and its G7 and international allies, who have called it illegal and unconstitutional.

"It will not be business as usual," Baird said. "The international community will not recognize the stunt of a referendum that now threatens to turn from an invasion to an annexation."


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