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Awkward mementoes: Putin's gifts to Harper

Awkward mementoes: Putin's gifts to HarperCanadian Prime Minister Stephen Harper speaks with Russian President Vladimir Putin on September 5, 2013 in St.Petersburg, Russia. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Adrian Wyld

OTTAWA - They are the awkward mementoes of happier times, a closet-full of gifts that Prime Minister Stephen Harper graciously accepted from Russian President Vladimir Putin as recently as last September.

An original painting, aged cognac, books and hand-painted ceramics recalling Russia's imperialist tradition — all of them duly declared to Canada's ethics commissioner as personal gifts received from Putin.

And then there are the items received in 2010 from Viktor Yanukovych, then-president of Ukraine who was ousted in disgrace this year.

Yanukovych gave the prime minister a leather-bound, gold-inlaid atlas of Ukraine, now presumably out of date with the loss of the Crimean Peninsula to Russia.

And there was a bronze statue of Bohdan Zenobi Chmielnicki (died 1657), considered a national hero and the father of an independent Ukraine, today perhaps turning in his grave.

Since 2006, Harper has officially declared more than a dozen personal gifts from Putin, all of them associated with international summits in Vladivostok and St. Petersburg.

Yanukovych's gifts were accepted during Harper's October 2010 visit to Ukraine, when the Ukrainian prime minister, Mykola Azarov, and a bishop also gave him going-away presents as souvenirs.

The prime minister has kept them all, with the exception of the bronze statue. That item was forfeited to the people of Canada, under rules that require gifts valued at more than $1,000 to be turned over to the Crown.

The rest of the gift declarations give no dollar value for the items.

Federal rules say public office holders and their families are allowed to accept gifts "as a normal expression of courtesy or protocol, or within the customary standards of hospitality that normally accompany the public office holder's position."

Such gifts worth $200 or more have to be declared with the ethics commissioner's office within 30 days of receipt.

Harper has aggressively locked horns with Putin over the Ukraine crisis, and imposed travel bans and economic sanctions against Yanukovych and his officials until they were forced to leave the country.

Harper distributed an estimated $30,000 worth of gifts to presidents, prime ministers and other officials when he was host of the G8 and G20 summits in Huntsville, Ont., and Toronto in June 2010.

Russia at the time was represented by President Dmitry Medvedev, who gave Harper a tea set and received in return a hand-crafted sugar-maple bowl, among other booty.

A spokeswoman for the Prime Minister's Office said Harper has given Putin gifts in the past, but did not specify the venue, their nature or value. Anna Tomala also confirmed that Harper has not returned any of his declared gifts, whether from Putin or anyone else.

Many of the gifts received by the prime minister are kept in storage, including in the attic of the official residence at 24 Sussex Drive, with some on display in his offices.

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