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Foreign Minister John Baird to lead Canadian delegation to Ukraine

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OTTAWA - Canada is encouraging Ukrainians to reject "the past" as they form a new government after weeks of turmoil and deadly violence, says Prime Minister Stephen Harper.

In a clear indication of where his Conservative government's support lies in the midst of the Ukrainian crisis, Harper joined other western leaders Tuesday in reaching out to Ukraine’s yet-to-be formed transitional government, announcing that a high-level delegation would meet with the new leadership in Kyiv.

Foreign Affairs Minister John Baird was to depart Wednesday with a group of parliamentarians and Ukrainian Canadians bound for the capital, the epicentre of political unrest that has rocked Ukraine for months.

The prime minister met with representatives of Canada's Ukrainian community Tuesday, where he encouraged Ukrainians to pursue closer ties with the West.

"I think we really have to credit the Ukrainian people themselves with resisting the attempt to overturn their democracy and to lead their country back into the past," Harper said, flanked by Conservative MPs Ted Opitz and James Bezan and Sen. Raynell Andreychuk.

"They have rejected that and we want to encourage them on that path."

Harper says Baird would offer Canada's support for efforts to restore democracy in Ukraine, although it was unclear whom he would be meeting.

Lawmakers within the Ukrainian parliament have delayed the formation of a new government until Thursday, just one sign of the political tensions and economic challenges faced by the country after Russian-leaning President Viktor Yanukovych fled the capital and went into hiding.

News of the Canadian mission came after Russia's ambassador to Canada dismissed as nonsense the possibility of Russian troops invading Ukraine.

Georgiy Mamedov said categorically that a Russian invasion was not in the cards, despite recent events in Kyiv that have pushed Ukraine away from renewed ties with Moscow.

"It's very simple. We are no NATO, it's not Libya, you won't see any Russian troops in Ukraine," he said.

"Whoever discusses rumours about Russian military intervention in Ukraine is committing an insult to the intellect of the Canadian public, full stop."

As late as Monday, a Baird spokesman and Immigration Minister Chris Alexander were raising questions of possible sanctions against Moscow should it intervene in the Ukrainian crisis.

Harper's announcement also came just hours after Liberal Leader Justin Trudeau apologized to Ukrainian Canadian Congress head Paul Grod for joking that Russia might be angry enough over its hockey losses at the Sochi Olympics to intervene in Ukraine.

Grod, who has met with the prime minister several times since the crisis began last fall, had gone into Tuesday's meeting with Harper hoping for a high-level delegation to meet with the transitional government in Kyiv.

Parliament was also expected to hold a non-binding take-note debate Wednesday evening over the crisis in Ukraine, where Bezan hoped the government would outline its support of next steps toward democratic elections.

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