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Harper extends sanctions

Prime Minister Stephen Harper, poised to become the first G7 leader to witness first-hand the tumult in Ukraine, arrived in Europe on Friday as Canada extended its Russian sanctions amid the most ominous eastern European crisis since the Cold War.

Harper, along with Foreign Affairs Minister John Baird, will take a day trip from the Netherlands to Kyiv on Saturday to reiterate Canada's support to Ukraine, reeling from Russia's formal annexation of Crimea.

"Together with our international allies, our government is taking a strong stance in our support for Ukraine," Harper said in a statement announcing the new sanctions against 14 more Russian officials and their personal bank.

"We continue to take additional actions to limit the capabilities of specific individuals and Bank Rossiya, which are responsible for undermining Ukraine's sovereignty."

The economic restrictions and travel bans cover senior Russian bureaucrats, including the intelligence chief of the Russian general staff and more of President Vladimir Putin's aides and advisers.

They also hit the St. Petersburg-based Bank Rossiya, which the Prime Minister's Office says is the personal bank for senior Russian officials. The sanctions forbid Canadian citizens and companies from doing business with the bank.

Harper and Baird will meet with Ukraine's new prime minister and president in separate meetings on Saturday. The prime minister is the first Group of Seven leader to visit the country since pro-Western demonstrators drove out its government late last month.

The visit comes two days before Harper is expected to make the case for a tough, united G7 front against the Russians amid fears from the West that Putin might flex his muscles in other nations once part of the Soviet bloc.

The G7 nations are holding an emergency meeting Monday evening on the sidelines of the Nuclear Security Summit in The Hague to discuss the crisis.

All eyes are on German Chancellor Angela Merkel, who has advocated a more cautious approach against Russia but was reportedly stung by Putin's false assurances to her that he had no designs on Crimea. Harper and Merkel have a close relationship as the two most senior leaders in the G7.

Harper is expected to carry additional sway with his colleagues because of his consistent warnings in the past about Putin. Some foreign policy experts have also suggested Canada's large Ukrainian-Canadian population lends Harper some credibility on the file among the G7 leaders.

The situation was fluid as Harper arrived in Amsterdam on Friday. Earlier in the day, Russia accepted the deployment of an international monitoring team to Ukraine that officials say will have free access to regions across the country. The team could be deployed as early as Saturday.

But a senior Russian envoy said those regions don't include Crimea, since the Russians now claim the geographically strategic region as its own.

The 57-nation Organization for Security and Co-operation in Europe hopes the monitoring mission will prevent an escalation of the crisis in Ukraine's eastern and southern reaches — regions with large Russian-speaking populations.

The Canadian Press

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