Canadian Prime Minister Stephen Harper visited Kiev, Ukraine on Saturday. He is the first leader from the G7 forum to actually step foot in Ukraine since the protests started in November.
Harper went to Independence Square where the three month protests took place and vowed to Ukrainian Prime Minister Arseniy Yatsenyuk to start trade talks with Kiev again. Reporters asked him about Russia’s future in the G8.
“As for the question of Russia’s presence in the G8, that’ a discussion we’re going to have with our [G7] colleagues. I don’t think it’ takes much imagination to figure out what my view is but I will certainly listen to what our partners in the G7 have to say before we arrive at final decisions,” he told a press conference at Kiev’s Cabinet of Ministers building.
The Canadian prime minister has previously cast Russia as a pariah in the G8. “I don’t think we should fool ourselves. This is the G7 plus one,” the Canadian Prime Minister said last June.
Yatsenyuk tossed out a replacement suggestion:
Mr. Yatsenyuk offered a brief moment of levity when he joked that Ukraine would be happy to replace Russia in the elite club of nations. “If G8 has an empty seat we are ready to take it,” he said.
Canada has been one step ahead of their counterparts in the G7 and G8. When Russia took control of Crimea from Ukraine after Russian-backed President Viktor Yanukovych was ousted, Canada canceled their appearance at the G8 Summit in June in Sochi, Russia and recalled their ambassador to Moscow. The other countries told Russian President Vladimir Putin they would boycott it and others just stopped their preparatory meetings. Canada was also one of the first nations to threaten sanctions against Russia.
Harper is also the first leader to visit Ukraine. U.S. senators John McCain and Dick Durbin have visited the country, while Vice President Joe Biden visited NATO countries outside of Ukraine. President Obama met with Yatsenyuk in Washington, D.C., while other European Union leaders met with Yatsenyuk in Brussels.
Harper told Ukrainians that Canadians stood with them and will do what they can to help them get back on their feet.
“In the name of all of Canada, I can tell you we are carrying your country in our thoughts and prayers.”
Mr. Harper promised Ukraine that Canada will stand with it in the face of Crimea’s annexation by Russia.
“Now, you face an even-greater test,” Mr. Harper said. “To help the Ukrainian people peacefully secure a bright future of freedom, we shall spare no effort,” the prime minister said.
“This courageous people deserves no less.”
Mr. Harper ended his statement by saying “Glory to the Ukraine,” a rallying cry used by protestors in Kiev as they demonstrated against the government of now ousted president Victor Yanukovych.