PM blasts Crimea referendum
OTTAWA—Canada has denounced the controversial referendum in Ukraine’s Crimean peninsula yesterday that showed overwhelming support to split off and join Russia, saying it would lead to further isolation of Russia’s Vladimir Putin.
“The so-called referendum held today [Sunday] was conducted with Crimea under illegal military occupation,” Prime Minister Stephen Harper said in a statement.
“This ‘referendum’ is illegitimate, it has no legal effect, and we do not recognize its outcome,” the prime minister noted, adding Canada is working with other countries on the possibility of further sanctions.
“Any solution to this crisis must respect the territorial integrity, sovereignty, and independence of Ukraine, as well as the constitution of Ukraine,” Harper stressed.
“Mr. Putin’s reckless and unilateral actions will lead only to Russia’s further economic and political isolation from the international community.”
Canada also expressed concern about reports coming out of Crimea of intimidation of Ukrainian Greek Catholic clergy and that armed men kidnapped at least one priest and possibly three.
“It is essential that all Ukrainians, regardless of their church or faith, be allowed to contribute to Ukraine’s democratic development without fear of violence,” Andrew Bennett, Canada’s Ambassador for Religious Freedom, said in a statement issued yesterday.
Earlier yesterday, protesters in at least two Canadian cities joined the international condemnation against the ballot.
Some protesters applauded Harper’s decision to travel to Ukraine this Friday to show support for the temporary government in the face of Russian aggression in the strategic Black Sea region.
“This is an already important symbolic visit showing support to the Ukrainians,” said Lada Roslycky, a human rights campaigner who organized an Ottawa protest across the street from the Russian embassy.
About 100 protesters staged a mock referendum outside the heavily-guarded embassy.
They brandished signs that denounced Russian President Vladimir Putin as organizers passed out fake cash, and urged mock voters to vote as often as they liked for either of two options to cede from Ukraine—yes and yes—as demonstrators in military garb stood over a fake ballot box.
They were joined by hundreds in downtown Toronto who braved frigid temperatures to march against what they called an illegitimate ballot.
They took to the streets just hours before the committee managing the referendum released results that said 95 percent of voters supported joining Russia.
That was based on half of the ballots counted by yesterday evening.
Standing across the street from the Russian embassy, Yaroslav Baran, a former senior Conservative aide, denounced the Crimea ballot as “an old-style Soviet election.”
“It’s really frightening,” said Baran, who is of Ukrainian descent and has relatives living close to the Crimean peninsula.
“This is classic Putin playbook,” he charged. “We’ve seen it in Georgia, we’ve seen it in Azerbaijan. “Doing this in the name of protecting minorities . . . and it turns into a permanent military occupation.”
Andrew Tsylke, a Kyiv native living in Ottawa, visibly was struggling with his emotions as he contemplated the situation in his homeland.
“It’s a very dangerous situation. It’s close to real war,” he warned.
Canada and its allies say yesterday’s snap referendum is illegal and they will not recognize its result.
In Toronto, marcher Olena Wachna said the referendum was bogus and slanted against Crimea remaining in the country.
“I don’t think the questions asked in the referendum represent democracy,” she said, adding she’s worried about her family in Ukraine.
“I think that the choices they’ve given to people—to separate or to become part of Russia—are just there to support Putin’s bad reasoning to invade Ukraine.”