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Canada to expel Russian military personnel: Baird

Canada to expel Russian military personnel: BairdForeign Affairs Minister John Baird speaks about the ongoing situation in Ukraine during a news conference in Montreal, Friday, March 7, 2014. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Graham Hughes

MONTREAL - Foreign Affairs Minister John Baird says Canada will suspend practically all its military relations with Russia because of the crisis in Ukraine.

Baird also confirmed Friday that the federal government will expel nine Russian soldiers who are training in Canada "to let them know they are no longer welcome."

The expulsions send the "powerful" message to Russia that it will not be business as usual when a sovereign country is invaded and occupied, he said.

"That Soviet tactic may have been acceptable in the last century, but it's not acceptable in 2014," Baird told a news conference after meeting with members of Montreal's Ukrainian community.

"We will suspend practically all our bilateral interactions. The prime minister has ordered that we suspend all scheduled bilateral activities between Canadian armed forces and the Russian Federation."

He also said Canada and other countries were working on imposing economic sanctions against Russia.

Baird's comments came shortly after Prime Minister Stephen Harper announced the imposition of travel bans to Canada for people "responsible for threatening the territorial integrity and sovereignty of Ukraine."

The prime minister did not identify who these people might be in his statement or indicate whether they had applied for travel to Canada or were regular visitors.

The statement said the ban was to protest Russian President Vladimir Putin's invasion of Ukraine.

Baird also said that both he and Harper are in close communication with Canada's G-7 partners and other like-minded allies.

On Friday, Harper spoke separately with French President Francois Hollande and British Prime Minister David Cameron about Ukraine.

The prime minister said in a separate statement the leaders agreed that a de-escalation of the situation is in the world's best interests.

The leaders also exchanged views on actions to support Ukraine and encourage an immediate withdrawal of Russia's military to its bases.

Baird said he spoke with the new Italian foreign minister and his Turkish counterpart Friday.

"We all agree that Ukrainian sovereignty must be respected and we'll continue to co-ordinate how best to respond to this evolving situation," Baird said.

The Conservative government has said the Crimea region of Ukraine is under "illegal military occupation" and that Canada will not recognize its forthcoming referendum on whether to join Russia.

One member of the Montreal delegation that met with Baird, Rev. Ihor Kutash, said he prays the current diplomatic efforts will not escalate into the use of military force.

Kutash, a priest with the Ukrainian Orthodox Church of Canada, said he was encouraged by the actions of Canada and other Western countries. He urged them to keep up the pressure.

But he expressed concern that the Russian president appeared to be ignoring them.

"It doesn't seem that the gentleman in Moscow is paying too much attention to that," Kutash said. "He seems to be following his own scenario in his own mind and the best weapon I can use is prayer."

Taras Hukalo, who visited Kyiv a few months ago, said the people of Ukraine feel this is their only opportunity to get away from the terror of the Russians.

"They saw that they were being robbed left and right and they don't want to go back to the old Stalin regime that they've lived through," he said in an interview.

Lawmakers in Crimea have voted unanimously to split from Ukraine and join Russia, and will hold a referendum March 16 to allow voters on the disputed peninsula to weigh in on the decision.

But Hukalo said Ukrainians living in Crimea have not been able to speak out because of the Russian military presence.

"The people who are fighting against it are not getting a chance to voice their opinion down there because of the Russian Black Sea fleet," he said.

New Democrat MP Paul Dewar, the party's foreign affairs critic, urged Canada to continue its diplomatic efforts.

"This is a time for capital 'D' diplomacy and that's why we have to have people on the ground in Moscow and we have to be engaging with the Russian ambassador here to be very clear about what we want to see and that is for the Russians to pull back and pull out and to engage," he told reporters in Ottawa.

Harper described Russia's invasion of Ukraine as an act of aggression and a clear violation both of Ukraine's sovereignty and international law.

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