Canada is looking seriously at levying punitive sanctions against firms in Russian business sectors over Moscow's seizure of Crimea, an increase in pressure under consideration as Stephen Harper heads to Ukraine to show solidarity with the beleaguered country.
Mr. Harper leaves Ottawa for Europe Friday morning and will fly to Kiev on Saturday, the first Group of Seven leader to visit Ukraine since the crisis there began. Later stops include an emergency G7 meeting on the sidelines of a nuclear security summit in The Hague and talks with German Chancellor Angela Merkel, who has emerged as an intermediary between the West and Russian President Vladimir Putin.
To date, the penalties Canada meted out over Crimea have only targeted individuals: travel bans and economic sanctions against key Russian and Ukrainian figures responsible for the occupation and takeover of Ukraine's Black Sea peninsula.
U.S. President Barack Obama raised the stakes in the East-West confrontation over Crimea Thursday by targeting some of Mr. Putin's closest long-time political and business allies with personal sanctions. Washington's latest sanctions began to bite into Russia's banking sector. One measure prohibits U.S. citizens or firms from doing business with Bank Rossiya, a St. Petersburg-based firm owned by associates of Mr. Putin.
Mr. Obama also signed an executive order authorizing sanctions against sectors of Russia's economy, such as petroleum, that he warned would be enacted should Moscow move beyond Crimea into other parts of Ukraine.
Canadian government sources say Ottawa is also considering sanctions against firms in Russia's business sector.
The extension of visa bans and asset freezes into Mr. Putin's inner circle came as Moscow rushed to consolidate the annexation of the Black Sea peninsula, seized from Ukraine this month, and to boost its military presence in the region.
Russian troops took over three Ukrainian warships in Crimea on Thursday, using stun grenades in one incident, a Ukrainian spokesman said. Kiev also said it had begun withdrawing its border guards, surrounded and outnumbered by Russian forces, from Crimea to the mainland.
The 20 names added to the U.S. blacklist included Kremlin banker Yuri Kovalchuk and his Bank Rossiya, major oil and commodities trader Gennady Timchenko and the brothers Arkady and Boris Rotenberg, linked to big contracts on gas pipelines and at the Sochi Olympics, as well as Mr. Putin's chief of staff and his deputy, the head of military intelligence and a railways chief.
Most grew rich after being associated with Mr. Putin since the former KGB officer began his ascent to power in the mayor's office of St. Petersburg in the 1990s.
Moscow reacted by announcing its own sanctions against senior U.S. politicians in retaliation against visa bans and asset freezes imposed by Washington on its citizens, with the Foreign Ministry saying U.S. action would "hit the United States like a boomerang."
European Union leaders, meanwhile, agreed on Thursday to widen the list of Russian officials subject to personal sanctions over Moscow's seizure of Crimea from Ukraine and asked the European Commission to prepare for broader economic sanctions if the crisis escalates.
Mr. Harper is heading into next week's Group of Seven meeting seeking to persuade his G7 counterparts to speak with the same degree of conviction on Russia, amid concern in Ottawa that not all members are publicly opposing Moscow with the same intensity.
The Canadian government expects the future of Moscow's membership in the Group of Eight will be discussed at the meeting in The Hague. "You can expect the Prime Minister will articulate the view that we have to be steadfast in being strong in how we respond as a group of countries and have to stand our ground," a senior Canadian government official told The Globe and Mail earlier this week.
Paul Grod, head of the Ukrainian Canadian Congress, who's going to Ukraine with Mr. Harper, said he'd like to see Canada push the international community to send more military observers to the Eastern European country "so that it acts as a buffer to Russian aggression." The world, he said, "needs to shore up the military observation there."
Separately, Canada is preparing to join other Western allies in a military exercise in Ukraine this summer. Rapid Trident is a previously planned event composed of about 1,300 troops from more than 10 countries, including the U.S. and Britain.
Eleven Canadian Armed Forces members will join what's called a peacekeeping training exercise in Lviv, near Ukraine's border with Poland, this July.