TORONTO (AP) — Canadian Prime Minister Stephen Harper said Thursday that Russia should never be allowed back in the Group of 7 as long as Vladimir Putin is president.
Harper said in an exclusive interview with The Associated Press that he expects the group won't ever let Putin back in. He made the remarks ahead of his trip to Ukraine and the Group of 7 meeting in Germany this week.
Harper said even long before the Ukraine crisis, Russia has eroded any basis for belonging to the group of wealthy nations. He also noted that Russia has ramped up long range bomber patrols near North American airspace. The G-7 suspended Russia last year but hasn't ruled out welcoming him back.
"I don't think Russia under Vladimir Putin belongs in the G7. Period," Harper said. "Canada would very, very strongly oppose Putin ever sitting around that table again. It would require consensus to bring Russia back and that consensus will just not happen."
The prime minister said Russia is far from like-minded.
"Russia is more often than not trying deliberately to be a strategic rival, to deliberately counter the good things we're trying to achieve in the world than for no other reason than to just counter them," Harper said.
Harper said the "mindset of the guy we are dealing with is that the Cold War has never ended and 'I've got to fight to change the ending somehow.'"
"I don't think there is any way under this leader Russia will ever change," Harper said.
Putin received a less-than-warm welcome from Harper last November when he approached Harper for a handshake at the G-20 summit in Australia. Harper told Putin: "I guess I'll shake your hand, but I have only one thing to say to you: You need to get out of Ukraine."
Asked what Putin's response was, Harper said Putin denied that he was in Ukraine.
"This is kind of typical Russian foreign policy to just say black is white even though everyone knows the contrary. I think as long as that's the view that they are going to take, that they're just going to treat us like we are all stupid, there really is no point in having a dialogue with them," Harper said.
The conflict between Russia and Ukraine escalated last year when the Kremlin-backed president in Kiev fled amid protests. Pro-Russian separatists moved to take over the strategically important Crimean Peninsula, which Russia later annexed. The West doesn't recognize that move
Harper noted Russia has ramped up its long-range bomber patrols near North American airspace since the Ukraine conflict started.
"This is a country that has shown a willingness to invade its neighbors, to actually seize territory that does not belong to it, and so I don't think we should take this escalation of a hostile military posture lightly. It needs to be treated seriously," Harper said.
A senior Canadian official said Russia has more than doubled its use of long range bomber patrols, including near North American airspace and other Western nations. The official, who spoke on condition of anonymity because the official was not authorized to speak publicly, said there were 52 Russian patrols last year compared to 23 in each of the previous two years.
Two Canadian CF-18 fighters intercepted two Russian Tu-95 "Bear" long-range bombers flying off the Canadian coast last December, a day after Ukrainian President Petro Poroshenko delivered a speech in Parliament in Ottawa thanking Canada for its ongoing support as his country's forces battle pro-Russian separatist rebels. Canada is home to more than 1 million people of Ukrainian descent.
Harper faces re-election in October.
Harper also addressed his relations with U.S. President Barack Obama, who has angered Canada for delaying a decision on the Keystone XL pipeline from Alberta to the Texas Gulf Coast. The pipeline is critical to Canada, which needs infrastructure in place to export its growing oil sands production. Harper's adopted home province of Alberta has the world's third largest oil reserves, with 170 billion barrels of proven reserves.
Allan Gotlieb, Canada's former ambassador in Washington, said earlier this year that he'd never seen the relationship between the two countries so cool.
"That's ridiculous," said Harper, who noted Canada's former Liberal government had poor relations with President George W. Bush after refusing to join the U.S.-led invasion of Iraq. "That was a period of time where the two leaders weren't even dialoging so no. This is a very close and intimate relationship across a number of files, but this is a significant irritant.
"I'm convinced the American people will work that out over time."
Harper said he believes the pipeline will proceed under a different administration if rejected by Obama.