Russia’s invasion of Ukraine is provoking more tangible international reactions on the Western Hemisphere, as Canada responded to the occupation of Crimea with a travel ban to Russia and the expulsion of Russian soldiers from the country.
John Baird, Canada’s minister of foreign affairs, met exponents of the Ukrainian community in Ottawa on Friday and declared in a press conference that Canada is willing to take all the necessary political and diplomatic measures to achieve a deescalate the crisis in Crimea.
Over the last weeks Canada has emerged as one of the most critical voices against Russian manouvers in Ukraine. On Friday Prime Minister Stephen Harper confirmed that his government is planning to increase pressure on Russia by imposing a travel ban against several individuals regarded as responsible for endangering Ukraine’s sovereignty and its territorial integrity.
In addition to the travel ban, the Canadian government ordered nine Russian soldiers, currently participating in military exercises in Canada, to leave the country within 24 hours.
Meanwhile, two military observers sent by Canada to Crimea within a mission of the Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe were denied access to the country by the Russian military.
Prime Minister Harper declared Russia’s occupation Crimea and aggression and a breach of international law. For this reason, he decided to increase its pressure on Moscow by withdrawing Canada’s ambassador to Russia and by interrupting all bilateral military training activities scheduled between Canada and Russia.
Furthermore, the government of Ottawa also said it will suspend its participation in the Intergovernmental Economic Commission, set up by Canada and Russia to foster economic relations between the two countries.
The moves seem to have struck a nerve in Russia. In fact, according the news agency ITAR-TASS, Anatoly Antonov, Russia’s Deputy Minister of Defense, reacted to the expulsion of the Russian soldiers saying that the decision will destroy positive and necessary military relations between the two countries.
Meanwhile, the Crimean pro-Russian parliament leaders have set up a referendum date for March 16 to decide whether the Crimean region should secede from Ukraine and join Russia.
Canada, together with other western countries, condemned the move as they regards the referendum as unlawful. Foreign Minister Baird said that Canada rejects the referendum as illegitimate as it has been decided while Crimea is occupied by Russian military forces.
Despite his firm stance against Russian aggressive moves, Baird admitted that there is little Canada can physically do to stop a potential contingent of 16000 to 30000 troops that might be deployed in Crimea by Russia.
Baird labeled Russian action as a “vestige of another century” and a “Soviet-style tactic” that is unacceptable in 2014 and should not belong to the resume of a G8 country.
However, so far Putin is getting away with a military invasion of a foreign country with the hypocritical argument of wanting to protect Russian speakers living in the region.
Canada’s pressure on Russia is one more confirmation to Putin that sending his troops over to Crimea is regarded by all of its G8 counterparts as a military occupation that will create Moscow a lot of enemies. So far, however, the Kremlin does not seem to be worried about diplomatic affronts.
By Stefano Salustri