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Updated: Sun, 02 Mar 2014 22:41:38 GMT | By The Associated Press, cbc.ca

Ukraine crisis: G7 jointly condemns Russia, halts G8 prep



Demonstrators participate in a rally and protest march organized by the Ukrainian Community of Vancouver in Vancouver, B.C. on Sunday, March 2, 2014. The protest is to highlight the recent developments in Crimea. Jimmy Jeong/Canadian Press

Demonstrators participate in a rally and protest march organized by the Ukrainian Community of Vancouver in Vancouver, B.C. on Sunday, March 2, 2014. The protest is to highlight the recent developments in Crimea. Jimmy Jeong/Canadian Press

The Group of Seven major industrialized nations on Sunday condemned Russia's intrusion into Ukraine and cancelled for now preparations for the G8 summit that includes Russia and had been scheduled to take place in Sochi in June, the White House said.

Canada, France, Germany, Italy, Japan, the United Kingdom, the U.S. and the presidents of the European Council and the European Commission released a joint statement agreeing to "suspend our participation in activities associated with the preparation of the scheduled G8 Summit until the environment comes back where the G8 is able to have meaningful discussion."

Finance ministers from the G7 pledged to throw a financial lifeline to Ukraine as long as the new government in Kyiv agreed to pursue economic reforms sought by the International Monetary Fund.

"We are united in our commitment to provide strong financial backing to Ukraine," the G7 ministers said in a joint statement. "The transition to a new government in Ukraine offers a unique opportunity to put in place urgently needed market-oriented reforms."

The G7 said the IMF, which is sending a team to Kyiv this week, needed to be in the forefront of efforts to help Ukraine with both policy advice and financing to help it through its most-pressing economic challenges.

"IMF support will be critical in unlocking additional assistance from the World Bank, other international financial institutions, the EU, and bilateral sources," the ministers said.

Ukraine mobilized for war on Sunday and Washington threatened to isolate Russia economically, after President Vladimir Putin declared he had the right to invade his neighbour in Moscow's biggest confrontation with the West since the Cold War.

"This is not a threat: this is actually the declaration of war to my country," Ukraine's Prime Minister Arseny Yatseniuk, head of a pro-Western government that took power when Russian ally Viktor Yanukovich fled last week, said in English.

Putin secured permission from his parliament on Saturday to use military force to protect Russian citizens in Ukraine and told U.S. President Barack Obama he had the right to defend Russian interests and nationals, spurning Western pleas not to intervene.

U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry called Russia's military incursion into Ukraine "an incredible act of aggression." Kerry will travel to Kyiv, Ukraine, on Tuesday to stress U.S. political and economic support.

Russian forces have already bloodlessly seized Crimea — an isolated Black Sea peninsula where Moscow has a naval base. On Sunday, they surrounded several small Ukrainian military outposts there and demanded the Ukrainian troops disarm.

'Dangerous course of actions'

Canada's Foreign Minister John Baird condemned Russia's moves and called on Putin to stop his "provocative and dangerous course of actions," urging the Russian leader to withdraw his troops in the Crimea back to their bases. He reiterated that Canada had recalled its ambassador in Moscow and is boycotting the G8 preparations in Sochi, in a news conference Sunday from Toronto.

The minister sidestepped questions about a boycott and when questioned about sanctions, he spoke about Canada talking to allies, NATO and the UN about further steps. 

"Non-participation in the G8 will hurt Russia," said NDP Leader Tom Mulcair at a Sunday news conference. "Having the international community condemn as one this totally illegal invasion of a sovereign country will help send a signal even to the most obtuse regime like the Putin regime."

In Kyiv, the Ukrainian capital, Yatsenyuk said there was no reason for Russia to invade Ukraine and warned that "we are on the brink of disaster."

But so far, his new government and other countries have been powerless to stop Russia's military tactics. Armed men in uniforms without insignia have moved freely about the peninsula, occupying airports, smashing equipment at an air base and besieging a Ukrainian infantry base.

"Ukraine is calling up all army reservists, getting this country combat ready," CBC News correspondent Susan Ormiston said, reporting from Crimea. "We were at a naval base not far from the capital of Crimea, where hundreds of Russian troops have surrounded the base. They blocked the gates with the Ukrainian army inside, but no violence."

Ormiston said there are reports the Ukrainian army is trying to protect its own caches of munitions.

"The city feels like it's still functioning. The doors are open," CBC News correspondent Nahlah Ayed reported from Western-sympathetic Kyiv. "But there's definitely apprehension here. They don't know where it's going. But this isn't really tangible on the ground as you are travelling around Kyiv."

The BBC is reporting that Russian soldiers are digging trenches where the Crimea peninsula meets the mainland.

Ukrainian officials announced Sunday that the head of the country's Black Sea fleet has been removed and is under investigation for treason. They say Denis Berezovsky did not provide resistance when the Russian army seized the port of Sevastopol, the headquarters of Ukrainian naval forces.

Russia has long wanted to reclaim the lush Crimean Peninsula, which was part of Russia until 1954. Its Black Sea Fleet is stationed there and nearly 60 per cent of Crimea's residents identify themselves as Russian.

Ukraine's population of 46 million has divided loyalties between Russia and Europe, with much of western Ukraine advocating closer ties with the EU, while eastern and southern regions like Crimea look to Russia for support.

Unidentified troops pulled up to the Ukrainian military base at Perevalne on the Crimean Peninsula in a convoy that included at least 13 trucks and four armoured vehicles with mounted machine guns. The trucks carried 30 soldiers each and had Russian licence plates.

Countries pulling out of pre-G8 meetings

In Brussels, NATO's secretary general said Russia had violated the UN charter with its military action in Ukraine, and he urged Moscow to "de-escalate the tensions."

NATO chief Anders Fogh Rasmussen spoke before a meeting Sunday of the alliance's political decision-making body to discuss the crisis and urged "all parties to urgently continue all efforts to move away from this dangerous situation."

Ukraine is not a NATO member, meaning the U.S. and Europe are not obligated to come to its defence. But Ukraine has taken part in some alliance military exercises and contributed troops to its response force.

In Moscow, thousands marched Sunday in a pro-invasion rally one day after Russia's parliament gave Putin a green light to use military force in Ukraine. At least 10,000 people bearing Russian flags marched freely through the city, while dozens of people demonstrating on Red Square against an invasion of Ukraine were quickly detained by Russian riot police.

The new Ukrainian government came to power last week following months of pro-democracy protests against a pro-Russian president, Viktor Yanukovych, and his decision to turn Ukraine toward Russia instead of the European Union.

Yanukovych fled to Russia after more than 80 people died, most of them demonstrators killed by police. He insists he's still president.

Since then, tensions have risen sharply between the two capitals.

Canadian athletes will still compete in the upcoming Paralympics in Sochi, the Prime Minister's Office said late Saturday. The games are set for March 7 to March 16.

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