Russia will not change course in Crimea – but insists that diplomacy, not sanctions, will resolve the crisis, says Moscow's new ambassador to Canada.
In an exclusive interview with CBC News Network's Power & Politics – the first since he assumed the post three weeks ago – a defiant Alexander Darchiev said Russia has no intention of retreating from the annexed region of Ukraine.
'Crimea is Russia'
"Crimea is Russia – once and forever," he told host Evan Solomon.
Darchiev insisted that Russia is acting on the free will of the Crimean people, who voted 96 per cent in favour of joining Russia in March. Many Western countries condemned that process as an illegal sham, but Darchiev called it a "valid referendum."
"To the best of my recollection, I haven't heard about a referendum in Kosovo, for instance," he said. "The people's will is in line with the United Nations charter, which states the right for self-determination, so the people have their say in that process."
Darchiev has taken on the ambassador’s post at a time of tense relations between Russia and Canada. On Friday, Canada levelled a new round of sanctions and travel bans against 11 Russian nationals and nine others from Ukraine. New restrictions on the export of technology used in Russia’s oil exploration sector were also imposed.
Conceding those sanctions are having a negative impact on Russia’s economy, Darchiev said the main cause of the country's collapsing currency is the falling price of oil and gas. He called it a wake-up call that Russia must diversify its economy to ease dependence on oil and gas revenues.
He also pointed out that Russia still has plenty of friends, including China, Brazil and South Africa.
'You can't isolate Russia'
"You can’t isolate Russia. The sanctions, they are both counterproductive and sanctions in itself hurt not only those who are under sanctions but those who impose sanctions," he said.
Lashing out at Russia Friday, Foreign Affairs Minister John Baird said the international community must work together to confront what he called 'evil.'
"One man in the Kremlin thinks he can redraw the borders of Europe through military force that just isn't on in 2014 and I think cowering away from confronting that type of evil is just the wrong way to go," he said.
But Darchiev urged Canada to engage in dialogue instead of "closing the door" on diplomacy.
"I've come to Canada with an open heart and strong intention to make our relations better," he said.
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