OTTAWA — Canada has suspended all joint military activities with Russia, Prime Minister Stephen Harper said Tuesday as Vladimir Putin lashed out at threats of sanctions against his country and accused the West of sowing divisions within Ukraine.
Canada will no longer take part in an anti-terrorism drill involving Canadian and Russian air forces and has pulled out of scheduled meetings, Harper said in a statement.
The prime minister also threatened to further sever the already frayed ties between the two countries.
“We continue to view the situation in Ukraine with the gravest concern and will continue to review our relations with President Putin’s government accordingly,” the statement said.
The move comes the day after the House of Commons unanimously passed a motion condemning Russia’s dramatic incursion in the country, which has been riven by protests for months.
Tensions reached new heights after the Russian military made a dramatic incursion into Ukraine’s Crimean peninsula.
Russian troops are stationed around Crimea’s ferry, military bases and border posts, while the Russian navy is blocking two Ukrainian warships from leaving the port of Sevastopol.
Putin sought to ease those tensions Tuesday, saying Russia has no intention “to fight the Ukrainian people.” However, he asserted his country’s right to use its military to protect Russians in Ukraine.
Russia also agreed to a special meeting in Brussels on Wednesday to discuss the situation in Ukraine.
Putin’s remarks were his first since Ukraine’s ousted president fled and as U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry arrived in the capital city of Kyiv to meet the country’s fledgling government.
Foreign Affairs Minister John Baird — who met Tuesday with Ukraine’s ambassador to Canada, Vadym Prystaiko — scoffed at Putin’s justification for sending troops into Ukraine.
“These Soviet-style tactics are dangerous and tremendously destabilizing to the whole region,” Baird said.
“The pretext that Putin uses for these military operations are ludicrous and transparently unacceptable.
“Canada can never accept — and the international community must never accept — ethic nationalist justification for invading a peaceful, democratic neighbour.”
He repeated a comparison between Russia’s actions now and Nazi Germany’s annexation of Sudetenland from Czechoslovakia in 1938 before the start of the Second World War.
Prystaiko said he and Baird spoke during their meeting about sending international observers to Ukraine to monitor the situation on the ground. Canada has yet to decide whether to participate in a special observer mission.
Prystaiko also accused Georgiy Mamedov, Russia’s ambassador in Ottawa, of “hypocrisy” for calling for ousted leader Viktor Yanukovych to be reinstated only days after he signed a book of condolences at the Ukrainian embassy for people killed by Yanukovych’s forces.
“How can you come and sign a book of condolences for people killed, and then the next day advocate for the same person to be reinstated as the leader of the same people?” Prystaiko said.
A small group of protesters gathered Tuesday outside the Russian embassy in Ottawa on Tuesday morning to protest the invasion, waving placards and chanting anti-Putin slogans.
Dan Popowych, a Ukrainian Canadian with family and friends in Ukraine, said the people of Ukraine will not back down from a fight.
“I know that my family over there, my friends, are not going to run for a fight. They’re going to stand their ground,” Popowych said.
“So I’m no so much worried for their safety as I am proud that they’re at least standing their ground and voicing their opinions and saying that, ‘We’re not afraid, we’re willing to die and be shot at, to make sure that this thing works.”’