OTTAWA (AFP) - Canada will not recognize a referendum in Crimea to join Russia, as long as Moscow maintains a military stranglehold on the Ukrainian region, Prime Minister Stephen Harper said Thursday.
"Russia's invasion of Ukraine is an act of aggression, a clear violation of Ukraine's sovereignty, and of international law," Mr Harper said in a statement. "Canada will not recognize a referendum held in a region currently under illegal military occupation."
Russian forces took de facto control of the strategically important Crimea, home to Kremlin's Black Sea Fleet, following the ouster on February 22 of Ukraine's pro-Moscow president Viktor Yanukovych.
The March 16 referendum will ask residents whether they want to split from Ukraine and join the Russian Federation.
US President Barack Obama also warned Thursday that such a referendum would violate international law and Ukrainian sovereignty.
Mr Obama also said that the United States and its allies were united in standing against Russia's incursion into Ukraine, but said a diplomatic solution to the standoff remained possible.