Loading articles...

Harper says Putin should be at D-Day ceremonies but also grasp strong message

Russian President Vladimir Putin should be allowed to attend Friday’s ceremonies marking the 70th anniversary of the D-Day because the Soviet Union played a major role in defeating Nazi Germany, Prime Minister Stephen Harper said Thursday.

France invited Putin to the commemoration marking the anniversary of the assault which began the liberation of the continent from the Nazis.

“Obviously whatever contemporary difficulties we have with the current regime there and they’re obviously immense, I don’t think we want to in any way diminish the Soviet and Russian contribution to the war effort, which was obviously enormous at the time,” Harper said.

Harper said he has no problem with some of his key G7 allies engaging the Russian president because they are all on the same page.

Harper said he and his fellow G7 leaders had “a very detailed discussion of the messages that need to be sent to Mr. Putin about ending illegal occupations, about ending provocative actions, ending the supporting of violent actions in eastern Ukraine, and the necessity of the G7 taking further actions if those things are not done.”

The prime minister said G7 leaders are united in sending a strong message denouncing Putin’s actions in the Ukraine crisis.

“All of our allies are agreed that those messages and only those messages will be the things that are communicated to Mr. Putin,” Harper said.

Harper spoke from the G7 summit in Brussels, where the Ukraine-Russia crisis has dominated the discussion. The meeting was cobbled together to replace a G8 meeting that was scheduled for Sochi, Russia, but cancelled in the wake of the Ukraine situation.

Fellow leaders such as British Prime Minister David Cameron, French President Francois Hollande and German Chancellor Angela Merkel plan to meet Putin and engage him on the Ukraine crisis.

Cameron said he planned to meet Putin on Thursday evening and deliver a stern message on his conduct in Ukraine in order to avoid distracting from Friday’s events

Hollande has mused that the Normandy setting might be conducive to a positive meeting between Putin and Ukraine president-elect Petrol Poroshenko on Friday.

That sort of direct diplomacy appears to be slightly at odds with the West’s general strategy to politically isolate the Russian leader over the Ukraine crisis. The G7 also issued a declaration denouncing Putin for his annexation of Crimea and the continuing unrest in eastern Ukraine.

In their communique issued late Wednesday, the G7 did not impose any additional sanctions but reserved the right to do so.

The G7 also called on Putin to co-operate with Ukraine’s new government.

Harper flies to Kyiv on Saturday for the official swearing-in of Poroshenko, a billionaire candy maker.

The G7 has also called on armed groups in eastern Ukraine to disarm, while urging Ukrainian authorities to use a “measured approach” to restore law and order.

Harper began his summit day by meeting with Hollande in a small boardroom in the French EU Council offices.

The two leaders discussed Ukraine as well as the Canada-EU free trade deal. The two sides are trying to overcome obstacles towards a final text after signing an agreement in principle last fall.

Prior to the official opening of the G7, Harper met with European Union President Jose Manuel Barroso to try to kick-start the deal with the EU.

The text laying out a final agreement remains held up by points of contention such as protection of intellectual property rights in the pharmaceutical sector.

Harper’s office says good progress is being made.