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Updated: Sat, 08 Mar 2014 07:00:00 GMT | By CBC News, cbc.ca

Former PM Brian Mulroney says Putin is no Gorbachev



Former Prime Minister Brian Mulroney is applauded as he is introduced at a luncheon in the presence of Prime Minister Stephen Harper in Montreal on Friday, November 15, 2013. Paul Chiasson/Canadian Press

Former Prime Minister Brian Mulroney is applauded as he is introduced at a luncheon in the presence of Prime Minister Stephen Harper in Montreal on Friday, November 15, 2013. Paul Chiasson/Canadian Press

Former Prime Minister Brian Mulroney describes Russian President Vladimir Putin as a leader longing for the days when the Soviet Union enjoyed superpower status and calls the referendum in Crimea a hoax.

Mulroney was prime minister during the height of the cold war. He had close relationships with some of the most powerful leaders at the time, such as British Prime Minister Margaret Thatcher and U.S. President Ronald Reagan and he did deal with then president of the Soviet Union, Mikhail Gorbachev.

On CBC Radio's The House, Mulroney told host Evan Solomon he does see similarities between the days during the cold war and the current Ukrainian crisis, but without the immediate threat of nuclear weapons. 

There are no missiles pointed at Washington and London. But the aggressor is still a nuclear power with "vast strength and ambition," Mulroney said.

And Putin is no Gorbachev.

"President Putin is not President Gorbachev in his outlook towards the West. I think he believes and he longs for a recreated Soviet Union in some form with the power and prestige that went along with it when the world was dominated, it was a bi-polar world dominated by two superpowers," Mulroney said.

Mulroney added that will not happen.

"While Russia remains a great power with a tremendous influence in Europe because of its energy position, the size of the economy of Russia today is anemic compared with that, for example, of the United States and indeed a great many other countries."

Earlier this week, Foreign Affairs Minister John Baird compared Russia's troop presence in Crimea to Hitler's invasion of Sudetenland, a part of the former Czechoslovakia, in 1938. But Mulroney was reluctant to compare anyone with Hitler. 

But he said "the idea to intervene in another country or another state to protect people from some dreamt up assault or attack is specious and completely unacceptable." 

Referendum in Crimea

On Thursday, the Crimean parliament, dominated by ethnic Russians, voted in favour of joining Russia. A referendum is set to take place on March 16.

Western leaders, including President Barack Obama and Prime Minister Stephen Harper, have condemned the vote, calling it illegitimate and illegal. Harper said Canada will not recognize the results.  

Mulroney said the vote is a hoax and that there is no such thing as a referendum in these circumstances.

"I mean, this is nuts and no one in his right mind would give this any credibility at all, least of all the leading world powers. So I don't think anything will come of this. There won't be much change. And the integrity of Ukraine will be maintained," he said.

Referendum in Quebec

Another theme from Mulroney's past came up this week. The election campaign in Quebec kicked off on Wednesday and the Parti Québécois could be headed towards a majority and may call a referendum if they win a majority.

Mulroney tried to stave off Quebec separatist sentiments with the failed Meech Lake Accord in 1987 while he was prime minister and said it's why he pressed so hard to have it passed.

"The separatist movement would have been completely stymied and in bad shape had Meech been accepted and passed because it would have meant that the constitution of 1982 would have been ratified by the national assembly of Quebec and therefore bore the signature of all provinces," he said.

It would have taken away one of the separatist movement's main complaints and proposition, but now Mulroney said new leaders will have to deal with it in another way. 

"We're back. Sometimes you think that things are resolved forever and that appears never to be the case," he said.

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