Georgiy Mamedov, Russian ambassador to Canada, delivers a speech to the Empire Club of Canada about 'Russia, Ukraine and Crimea - The Russian Perspective' in Toronto on Tuesday, April 22, 2014. Chris Young/Canadian Press
Russia is expelling a Canadian diplomat from Moscow in retaliation for Ottawa kicking out a Russian military attaché earlier this month.
CBC News has confirmed a Russian news agency report that Russia is kicking out Margarita Atanasov, a Canadian first secretary. Sources say the diplomat works in the immigration section.
It's the latest in a tit-for-tat diplomatic fight amid the intensifying conflict over Ukraine — a point made by Russian Ambassador to Canada Georgiy Mamedov during a question-and-answer session following his speech to the Empire Club in Toronto Tuesday.
Mamedov compared the situation in Ukraine to penalties in playoff hockey, and told the audience that there's "a certain diplomatic dance" with sanctions and expelled diplomats "where everybody reciprocates." He noted it's in retaliation for the Russian military attaché and referred to the Canadian as a military spy.
"Canadians expelled our guy, military attache, so it's probably we also kicked out some military spy from Moscow. Simple stuff. Nothing relevant. In my line of job when I discuss serious security issues," he said.
On April 8, the Canadian government quietly ordered a Russian diplomat to leave the country in retaliation for a Canadian envoy's expulsion from Moscow two weeks earlier, the CBC's Hannah Thibedeau reported.
At the same time, Canada's ambassador to Russia returned to his post in Moscow. He had been recalled by Prime Minister Stephen Harper more than a month before to protest Russia's actions in Ukraine.
The original dispute started earlier when the Russian government requested accreditation for a handful of diplomats to come to Canada. The Canadian government denied the visas because officials did not believe they were filling the roles they claimed, sources told CBC News. Following that decision, a diplomat at the Canadian Embassy in Moscow was told by the Russians he was no longer welcome.
Mamedov had harsh words for the Conservative government, advising it to join the international community in working with Russia and Ukraine rather than sitting on the sidelines.
"I told them, if you want to be serious players, if you want to help Ukrainians, if you want to be instrumental in national reconciliation in Ukraine, join the group. Be with us, Americans, European Union, yes we argue, but we are trying to do something. It's much harder than just standing on the sidelines and badmouthing everybody," Mamedov said, telling the audience that he's summoned regularly for dressing-downs at Foreign Affairs.
The Russian ambassador also said it was "deeply offensive" that Foreign Affairs Minister John Baird compared Russia's occupation of Crimea to Nazi Germany's annexation of Sudetenland in the former Czechoslovakia in 1938.
Mamedov told the Toronto audience that Russia wants a united Ukraine.
"There is a lot of talk about Russian troops on the border with Ukraine. Of course we are concerned because Ukraine is on the brink of civil war," he said.
Mamedov said Russian troops are on the border to protect extremists from taking vengeance on Russian-speaking Ukrainians.
"Will we use them? I can give you my personal assurances. Our troops won't cross [the] Ukrainian border. It's the last thing we want. It will be disaster. Not for [the] world community. Not only for people in Canada who feel deeply about Ukraine. It will be total disaster for Russian identity, historic and otherwise," he said.
The ambassador was heckled several times as he started his speech, but he persevered, asking the crowd not to throw pies at him. The audience included representatives from the Ukrainian-Canadian community, who used the question and answer session following the speech to point to differences between reports from the region and Mamedov's take on events.
The speech comes the same day U.S. Vice-President Joe Biden warned Russia that "it's time to stop talking and start acting" to reduce tension in Ukraine.
The crisis dates back to last November, when then President Viktor Yanukovych reversed a pro-EU trade deal. Tensions boiled over in February when Yanukovych cracked down on protesters and he was ousted. He has taken refuge in Russia, the country that annexed Ukraine's Crimea region.
Mamedov has been a diplomat since 1972 and has extensive experience in North America. He spent several years in Washington in the 1970s and early 1980s, and has served as Russia’s ambassador to Canada since 2003.
In the 1990s and the early 2000s, he was his country’s chief interlocutor with the United States on such subjects as NATO, arms control and Kosovo. During that time, he was Russia’s deputy minister of foreign affairs.