Baird and EU foreign policy chief cautious on Ukraine ceasefire

Baird expresses skepticism over Russia's actions after talks with Catherine Ashton, his European Union counterpart

OTTAWA – Canada won’t hesitate to level additional sanctions against Russia if the current fragile ceasefire with Ukraine does not hold, Foreign Affairs Minister John Baird said Monday.

Baird continued to express skepticism over Russia’s actions after talks with Catherine Ashton, his European Union counterpart.

Following their morning discussions, Baird and Ashton said Canada and Europe stand as one in opposing Russia’s actions in Ukraine.

“In the face of unacceptable provocations in Ukraine, we continue to stand united in support of free, independent and democratic nations,” they said in a joint statement.

Ashton’s visit comes as a fragile ceasefire between Russia and Ukraine continues to hold, amid discussions in Brussels of possible additional EU sanctions against Russia in response to the clash between Ukrainian forces and Russian-backed rebel separatists in eastern Ukraine.

“Obviously we want to see a political solution to the crisis in Ukraine,” Baird told reporters as he stood beside Ashton at Foreign Affairs headquarters. “We remain deeply skeptical of the Russian Federation’s willingness to have a major de-escalation in this crisis.

“Let’s give a political solution a chance. Obviously if more provocation and more negative aspects emerge, we would advocate strongly for additional measures.”

Ashton expressed guarded optimism, saying much would turn on a Monday evening consultation with on-the-ground observers from the Organization for Security and Co-operation in Europe.

“We have to see the effects of the ceasefire, hour by hour,” Ashton said.

“We all have to watch very carefully and be certain of what developments are taking place,” she added.

“I want to say very clearly that we want this ceasefire to be strong and solid.”

Last month, Canada imposed a new round of sanctions and travel bans on several top Russian and Ukrainian politicians and groups with ties to Russian President Vladimir Putin in co-ordination with the United States and the EU.

Russia retaliated with its own sanctions that mainly target Canadian pork exports, which federal government figures say amounted to $563 million in 2012.

Ashton was on her way to Washington, but stopped in Ottawa to announce an agreement in principle on the Canada-European Union Strategic Partnership Agreement, a pact that affirms shared values and goals and calls for closer co-operation on several fronts, including security.

The agreement will consolidate co-operation on energy, sustainable development and the environment and opens new opportunities for research and innovation.

It also outlines shared values and objectives, including democracy, human rights and the rule of law, international peace and security and effective multilateralism.

Ashton said the new pact will make for closer ties.

Both ministers said it will complement the Comprehensive Economic and Trade Agreement, or CETA, which Canada and Europe have agreed to in principle, but have to yet to rubber stamp with the release of a final text.

The final wording of this trade and investment pact has yet to be finalized, and few details have been formally released.

Both ministers expressed optimism that CETA would soon be concluded for good, with Ashton suggesting that a Canada-EU summit in Ottawa later this month will see the final inking of the pact after the two sides reached an agreement in principle in October 2013.