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Canada ready to give $220M to prop up Ukraine

Canada ready to give $220M to prop up UkraineForeign Affairs Minister John Baird speaks about the situation in Ukraine during a news conference on Parliament Hill Thursday March 13, 2014 in Ottawa. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Adrian Wyld

OTTAWA - Canada will contribute $220 million to an international effort to bail out the government of Ukraine, Foreign Affairs Minister John Baird said Thursday.

But beyond some rhetorical condemnation, Baird was non-committal on any concrete steps that might be directed outside Ukraine's border to counter Russia's growing military build-up and its weekend referendum in Crimea.

"Restoring economic stability in that country is a priority for both Canada and of our international partners during this important transition period towards a Euro-Atlantic future for Ukraine," he said.

Baird said Canada is prepared to work with the European Union, the United States and the International Monetary Fund to help Ukraine, saying it seems to have enough money to keep afloat for a few months.

But at the same time, Baird said, Canada and its allies won't be writing blank cheques to Ukraine's new leadership in Kyiv.

"Obviously, the IMF is going to want to negotiate some of the strict conditions."

Canada, he added, will "take a strong role" in ensuring that there "be appropriate safeguards and transparency" attached to any financial assistance.

IMF advisers on the ground in Ukraine will make recommendations on what level of support the country needs, Baird said.

Baird said the IMF team is "diagnosing the economic problems" and will provide a "prescription."

Canada is committing $200 million to the IMF efforts, and another $20 million will go directly toward helping Ukraine get the "expert guidance it needs to manage this important economic transition."

Last week, the EU proposed a $15-billion aid package, and the U.S. committed $1 billion. The new government in Kyiv has said it needs $35 billion for this year and next.

The Russian military controls the Crimean Peninsula, and on Sunday a hastily-called referendum is to be held on whether it should leave Ukraine and join Russia.

Ukraine Prime Minister Arseniy Yatsenyuk told the United Nations Security Council on Thursday that Russia is carrying out a "military aggression" that has "no reason and no grounds."

Baird said Canada won't recognize the Russian-backed referendum this weekend in Crimea.

"I don't think anyone has any illusions that Sunday's Yes referendum in occupied Crimea is any more than an illegitimate stunt," he said.

"Calling a referendum on some 10-days' notice makes it illegitimate; it's against Ukrainian constitution; it's against international law. The fact that UN human-rights observers, OSCE observers have not been allowed in, I think says all we need to know."

Canada and its allies are prepared to do more after the referendum but Baird declined to give specifics.

German Chancellor Angela Merkel said Russia faces "massive" political and economic consequences, if it does not negotiate an end to the current crisis.

In an address to the German parliament, Merkel said the use of the military was not an option, and that diplomacy was the only way out of the crisis.

Baird said he took part in a teleconference Thursday with "like-minded countries" chaired by U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry.

Kerry is to meet with Russian Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov on Friday, but Baird appeared skeptical that any progress would be made.

"It doesn't appear that the central government in Moscow is frankly listening to anyone."

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