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Canada sending message to Putin via Ukraine observers, Kenney says

Jason Kenney, Minister of Employment and Social Development, responds to media questions as Theresa Oswald, Manitoba Minister of Jobs and the Economy listens in during a Canada Job Grant press conference in Winnipeg, Wednesday, April 23, 2014.

John Woods/CP

Canada is sending a message to Russia's Vladimir Putin by dispatching up to 500 observers to Ukraine to monitor the fairness of upcoming presidential election, Ottawa says.

The election, set for May 24, 2014, takes place as Russia continues to try to destabilize Ukraine after unilaterally annexing its Black Sea peninsula this spring.

"I hope that Moscow notices," Employment Minister Jason Kenney said Wednesday.

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"There seems to be the view in Moscow that Ukraine is not a sovereign country. That its sovereignty can be tampered with with impunity. We clearly disagree and one way of stating our disagreement is to do strongly support free and fair presidential elections in Ukraine."

Ukraine's previous president, ousted from office by a popular uprising in March, fled to Russia. Viktor Yanukovych sparked a backlash after he balked at a deal to forge closer ties with the European Union and instead accepted a major bailout package from Russia.

Russia has since seized Ukraine's Crimean peninsula, and backed pro-Russian separatists in eastern Ukraine who are agitating for independence.

"The government in Moscow continues with the laughable notion that Viktor Yanukovych is the president of Ukraine," Mr. Kenney said.

"These elections will demonstrate that there is a new Ukrainian leadership with a democratic mandate, and that's why it's important that we be on the ground."

The Canadian deployment will include an election observer mission of up to 338 observers, as well as support for as many as 150 observers operating through the Organization for Security and Co-operation in Europe and 12 parliamentarians who will join the OSCE's parliamentary election observer mission.

Canada was the first Western country to recognize Ukraine's independence from the Soviet Union in 1991, and since 2004 has contributed hundreds of election observers to monitor five Ukrainian elections.

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In recent months, the federal government has also unveiled a support package for Ukraine to help stabilize its economy.

Mr. Kenney said the Conservatives want Moscow to know that Canada won't sit idly by while Russia interferes in Ukraine.

"We are doing this in part to send a message, as with everything else we're doing in Ukraine to demonstrate our support for Ukrainian sovereignty and democracy. It's not Canada that's provoking the Russian federation. It's the Russian federation that's provoking the democratic world by so obviously undermining the sovereignty of an independent member state of the UN."

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Parliamentary reporter

Steven Chase has covered federal politics in Ottawa for The Globe since mid-2001, arriving there a few months before 9/11. He previously worked in the paper's Vancouver and Calgary bureaus. Prior to that, he reported on Alberta politics for the Calgary Herald and the Calgary Sun, and on national issues for Alberta Report. More

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