Ukraine PM thanks Canada for support in is dispute with Russia

Arseniy Yatsenyuk thanks Stephen Harper

OTTAWA – Prime Minister Stephen Harper called Ukrainian counterpart Arseniy Yatsenyuk on Thursday to discuss the latest developments in the region.

Harper’s office said the two leaders condemned Russia’s illegal occupation of Crimea and its continuing military provocations.

Yatsenyuk expressed appreciation for the efforts Canada has made in support of Ukraine, citing in particular the plan to send up to 500 observers to monitor presidential elections next month.

Meanwhile, Foreign Affairs Minister John Baird continued his swing through eastern European capitals to rally a common front against Russia.

In Warsaw, he and his Polish counterpart Radoslaw Sikorski signed a declaration of principles and pledged to work together to strengthen democracy in Ukraine.

Baird said Canada will contribute $9.2 million to these efforts, which will include measures to fight corruption and criminality.

“Canada is pleased to be partnering with Poland on a co-ordinated approach in support of Ukraine’s future as a sovereign, unified and prosperous European state, free of Russian interference and threats,” he said in a statement.

He said it is important to shore up Ukraine’s fragile democracy.

“Canada and Poland will explore ways to help Ukraine strengthen its institutions and restore stability because we know how important this is to any growing democracy.”

The minister has been hop-scotching across eastern Europe on his mission to promote a united response to Russia’s troubling moves against Ukraine.

He visited the Czech Republic on Tuesday, and went to Slovakia and Poland on Wednesday. He is scheduled to go to Latvia and Estonia as well.

He and Harper have both had harsh words for Russian President Vladimir Putin, condemning his move to snatch the Crimean Peninsula and tarring him as the biggest threat to world peace since the end of the Cold War.

In Warsaw, Baird was just as stern.

He said the conflict is getting worse as Ukrainians try to drive pro-Russian insurgents out of occupied government buildings. He blamed Putin for breaking a Geneva accord that called for the insurgents to leave and for international monitors to assess the situation.

“We cannot have one man in the Kremlin redraw the map of Europe,” he said.

In the last couple of months, the Harper government has expelled a Russian diplomat, imposed sanctions on Russian officials and institutions, co-sponsored a UN resolution on the crisis and earmarked $220 million to help stabilize the Ukrainian economy.

Harper visited Kyiv late last month.

Canada has also said it will send six CF-18 fighter-bombers to join a NATO air police mission.