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Putin sees role as rival, not partner: Harper

Putin sees role as rival, not partner: HarperPrime Minister Stephen Harper talks with German Chancellor Angela Merkel as he is welcomed to the Chancellery in Berlin, Germany on Thursday, March 27, 2014. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Sean Kilpatrick

BERLIN - Chances are slim that Russian President Vladimir Putin will ever be allowed back in the G8, Stephen Harper said Thursday following a meeting with German Chancellor Angela Merkel about the crisis in eastern Europe.

"He has not desired to be a partner, he's desired to be a rival, and that's just the reality that we have to come to terms with," Harper, standing alongside his German friend and counterpart, told a news conference.

"I don't see any way of a return for Mr. Putin to the table unless Russia fundamentally changes its course."

The G7 nations — the U.S., Canada, Britain, Germany, France, Italy and Japan — effectively booted Russia from the G8 earlier this week over its annexation of Ukraine's Crimean peninsula following a pro-Western uprising.

Harper and Merkel met shortly before the UN General Assembly overwhelmingly adopted a resolution affirming Ukraine's territorial integrity and deeming the annexation illegal.

A hundred members voted in favour of the resolution, while 11 opposed and 58 abstained. Such votes aren't legally binding, but they generally provide a gauge of international opinion on critical events of the day.

The International Monetary Fund also pledged up to $18 billion in loans to Ukraine to help it prop up its teetering economy.

When Harper and Merkel emerged from their hour-long discussion, they said they're united in their view that Russia has grossly violated Ukrainian sovereignty by annexing Crimea.

In advance of next week's NATO meeting in Brussels on the crisis in eastern Europe, Harper said: "No one is seeking a military escalation."

But at the same time, Russian aggression "has the attention" of NATO, particularly NATO partners in eastern Europe, Harper added.

Merkel, asked how much pain Germany was willing to endure as a result of the economic sanctions against Russia, said she was unconcerned.

"I am quite relaxed, let's put it that way."

Merkel, meantime, said if Russia doesn't de-escalate the situation, it will face further sanctions from the international community. She added that she hopes Putin makes the "right decisions" given his actions are harming the European economy as well as Russia's.

Harper and Merkel, the two most senior members of the G7, sat down for an hour at the Chancellery in Berlin, a gleaming contemporary building overlooking the historic Reichstag. They exchanged kisses on the cheek upon meeting in an outdoor courtyard, then chatted warmly as they entered the building.

While the two leaders also discussed the Canadian-German trade relationship in detail, their talks focused on the ominous events playing out in Ukraine.

"We are united in our view that President Putin's actions are a clear and unacceptable violation of the sovereignty and territorial integrity of Ukraine," Harper said.

"President Putin's actions are also in contravention of Russia's obligations under the UN Charter and its agreement to respect Ukraine's borders."

Merkel was asked if Germany is interested in importing Canadian energy to end its dependency on Russian natural gas. The chancellor noted that Germany gets 35 per cent of its energy from Russia.

But she added that as Europe looks to diversify, Canada lacks the infrastructure to get its energy overseas. That means Canadian energy imports are a long-term project for Germany, Merkel said.

A senior European diplomat, speaking on condition of anonymity because he was not authorized to speak to the media, said Wednesday there are currently determined efforts under way in Europe to find alternatives to Russian natural gas.

— Follow Lee-Anne Goodman on Twitter at @leeanne25

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