Stephen Harper heads to Europe with Putin on his mind

PM's trip includes celebration of the end of the Cold War and ceremonies marking the 70th anniversary of the Normandy invasion

OTTAWA — Prime Minister Stephen Harper departs today for Europe, a week-long trip that includes a celebration of the end of the Cold War and ceremonies marking the 70th anniversary of the Normandy invasion.

He joins U.S. President Barack Obama and other world leaders in Warsaw on Wednesday to mark what the Prime Minister’s Office calls the 25th anniversary of Poland’s emergence from communism.

June 4, 1989, was the day Poland’s anti-communist Solidarity movement officially won power in democratic elections.

From there, Harper travels to Brussels to attend a G7 summit, which was cobbled together to replace a G8 meeting scheduled for Sochi, Russia, scrubbed in the wake of the crisis in Ukraine.

He ends the trip in Normandy, where he’ll attend D-Day ceremonies, an event which is expected to include Russian President Vladimir Putin.

Harper hasn’t expressed any desire to speak to the Russian leader, although it’s likely he will speak to others about Putin.

The prime minister has labelled Putin a threat to world peace after Russia annexed the Crimean Peninsula. Harper blames Putin for instigating the continuing unrest in eastern Ukraine.

Just last Friday, Harper denounced the Russian in a fiery speech in Toronto, linking him with the worst evils of 20th century communism, which he called a ruthless and “poisonous ideology” that “slowly bled into countries around the world.”

Harper’s Warsaw stop will contrast a Poland that has become an Eastern European success story with an economically hobbled Ukraine’s struggling to break from the influence of Putin’s Russia.

Harper will meet Polish Prime Minister Donald Tusk to discuss the world’s response to the Ukraine crisis.

Harper has said once he’s in Brussels, he’ll lobby his fellow leaders to come up with more money for his signature initiative on maternal and child health.

He’ll also talk jobs and the global economy, but Ukraine and Russia will also be on his plate.

Harper has been promoting a common front as the best way to respond to Russia recent aggressive moves.