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Bezan calls ban a 'badge of honour'

Tory MP credits his blasts against Russia on Crimea

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Selkirk-Interlake MP James Bezan

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A Manitoba MP has become a pawn in the high-risk chess game between western powers and Russia in their showdown over Crimea.

James Bezan (Selkirk-Interlake) was one of 13 Canadian lawmakers and officials Monday to be barred entry into Russia. The move followed Canadian sanctions against Russia.

Bezan said in an interview he was undoubtedly singled out because he's been outspoken in his criticisms of the "Russian invasion of Crimea" and the "sham and charade of a referendum" held to justify it.

"I see it as a badge of honour," the Conservative MP said in a telephone interview from Ottawa. "And I believe that all 13 Canadians that were sanctioned today feel the same way. These punitive measures being taken by Russia against us will not silence our criticisms of their foreign policy right now in relation to Ukraine."

Also slapped with an entry ban into Russia were federal government House leader Peter Van Loan, Commons Speaker Andrew Scheer, several other government and opposition MPs, an independent Liberal senator, three Privy Council officials and Paul Grod, national president of the Ukrainian Canadian Congress.

A research fellow at the Centre for Defence and Security Studies at the University of Manitoba said the Russian retaliatory action was to be expected. "They're currently engaging in tit for tat," said Russian expert Lasha Tchantouridzé.

In a statement, Russia's Foreign Ministry said the move was in response to Canadian travel bans and economic sanctions imposed earlier on a number of Russian officials, including members of Russian President Vladimir Putin's entourage. The ministry said the "unacceptable action" by Canada "has inflicted serious damage to bilateral relations."

Canada imposed its sanctions following Russia's annexation of Ukraine's Crimea region.

"Canadian officials named today by Russia aren't oligarchs or threatening to annex parts of peaceful neighbours by military force," the Department of Foreign Affairs said in a statement Monday.

Bezan, who accompanied Foreign Affairs Minister John Baird on a trip to Kyiv three weeks ago, said he was not surprised by the blacklisting.

"I was expecting it. It was just a matter of time before Russia was going to retaliate with their own sanctions. They had been talking this way for about a week to 10 days," he said by telephone from Ottawa. "I am proud that they recognized the work that I've been doing to raise public awareness of their illegal actions in Crimea."

Premier Greg Selinger called Russia's diplomatic retaliation "unfortunate," but said it does not change Manitoba's "unequivocal" support for Ukraine.

"The rights of nations need to be respected, and we'll work with the federal government to make sure that happens from a Canadian perspective," he said.

The Manitoba Conservatives have called on the province to ban Russian vodka from being sold in government liquor stores, but so far the government has shied away from taking unilateral trade action. It says such actions should be done in co-ordination with Ottawa and other provinces.

Manitoba Liquor and Lotteries, however, will help raise funds for the Ukrainian Canadian Congress to purchase needed medication, shelter, clothing and food to support humanitarian assistance in Ukraine. The corporation will also match customer and employee donations to a maximum of $50,000. The drive will begin Wednesday at Liquor Marts and casinos.

Tchantouridzé questioned whether the West has the stomach for serious economic sanctions against Russia.

"Russia is getting 70 per cent of its national income from the sale of gas and oil. Real sanctions would imply no one buying, no country is buying their product. But how likely is that?"

The result would be skyrocketing prices worldwide, he said.

"It's on Russia's agenda now to humiliate NATO as much as possible and to make it as irrelevant as possible," Tchantouridzé said.

larry.kusch@freepress.mb.ca

Republished from the Winnipeg Free Press print edition March 25, 2014 A3

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