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Canada keeps threat of sanctions on Russia

OTTAWA - The Harper government left the threat of sanctions against Russia on the table if it interferes in Ukraine, even as federal politicians in Ottawa reacted Monday to the convulsive events there with domestic political mud-slinging.

The possibility of Canadian sanctions against Russia was first raised Sunday by Immigration Minister Chris Alexander on CTV's Question Period.

A day later, Alexander appeared to play down speculation about Canadian sanctions on Russia when he fielded questions from reporters on Parliament Hill, but a spokesman for Foreign Affairs Minister John Baird did not.

"We're not going to comment on hypothetical scenarios. We want to keep this door towards a return to legitimate institutions, democratic institutions in Ukraine open and we know that that has to be done," Alexander said Monday.

A day earlier, Alexander told CTV that "sanctions and other, and other measures potentially, as well" would be on the table if Russia intervened. Asked Monday, about those remarks Alexander explained that, "I was asked repeatedly by (the interviewer) 'what if, what if, what if'."

A written statement from Baird issued earlier Monday made no mention of sanctions against Russia.

However when asked specifically whether they were a possibility, Baird's spokesman Adam Hodge replied in an email: "All options are on the table."

He did not elaborate.

Tensions between the West and Russia continued to run high Monday after Ukrainian authorities replaced their Russian-leaning President Viktor Yanukovych, who fled the capital Kyiv on Friday.

Baird, who was in Australia on an official visit Monday, issued a written statement that welcomed Oleksander Turchinov as Ukraine's acting president.

"The Ukrainian parliament acted legitimately in naming Speaker Turchinov as acting president pending the May 25 elections, and Canada welcomes his interim appointment during this important transition period," said Baird's statement.

"The next critical juncture will be the Ukrainian parliament's vote to establish a new government under the leadership of a new prime minister, in accordance with the constitution passed on Feb. 22."

In Ottawa, the crisis on the streets of Kyiv became fodder for some domestic political bickering.

The Conservatives took the opportunity to criticize Justin Trudeau on Monday for his tongue-in-cheek remarks that linked the upheaval in Ukraine to Russia's Olympic hockey humiliation.

Trudeau's joke came on Radio-Canada's "Tout Le Monde en Parle," a humour-infused current events program that was pre-taped but broadcast on Sunday night.

"This is another case of the Liberal leader simply showing bad judgment, saying foreign policy ... could be determined by one country's mood after losing a hockey game," Alexander said.

In the House of Commons, Ukraine's turmoil of the last week that has left more than 70 dead and hundreds injured became the fodder for domestic political bickering.

"Twice in 10 years, the people of the Ukraine have risen en masse against political tyranny, interference by the Russian bear, and Soviet-style thuggery," harrumphed Conservative MP Peter Goldring in a member's statement.

"Yanukovych, this time, murderously outdid his despotic past."

Liberal foreign affairs critic Marc Garneau called on the Harper government to send 500 Canadian election observers to the next Ukraine election and "to make it clear to any foreign power not to interfere with the will of the Ukrainian people."

NDP foreign affairs critic Paul Dewar sparred with Baird's stand-in, parliamentary secretary David Anderson, when he called on Harper to send a "high-level" delegation to help Ukraine's political transition.

Anderson blasted Dewar for previously criticizing Baird for joining protesters in the streets of Kyiv, asking: "Will the NDP members tell us today which side they stand on?"

Afterwards, Dewar accused the government of transforming the Ukraine crisis "into a partisan issue when what we really need to see … is working together to help the people of Ukraine."

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