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Premier Smith needs to engage the Ukrainian community in a serious manner

Oct 26, 2022 | Editorials, Featured

Although Premier Danielle Smith has met with Ukraine’s Consul-General in Edmonton, Oleksandr Danyleiko, she has yet to respond to any requests for a meeting with representatives of Alberta’s Ukrainian community Photo: Oleksandr Danyleiko’s Facebook Page

Marco Levytsky, Editorial Writer.

Alberta Premier Danielle Smith has come under fire from several corners over comments she made regarding Ukraine on social media platforms before she became leader of the United Conservative Party and Premier.

In those posts, which were brought to light by freelance journalist Justin Ling, Smith said it would have been better had Ukraine formally declared its neutrality, openly questioned whether parts of Ukraine might not be happier as part of Russia and allowed for the possibility that Ukraine had provoked the conflict.

Federal Deputy Prime Minister Chrystia Freeland called these comments “deeply hurtful” and “frightening.” Former Alberta Deputy Premier Thomas Lukaszuk called them false narratives pushed by the government of Russian President Vladimir Putin and described them as harming his and former Alberta Premier Ed Stelmach’s fundraising efforts on behalf of Ukraine.

Alberta Opposition critic Sarah Hoffman said it was “tone deaf” and “cruel” for Smith to urge Ukraine to accept neutrality, even as its people were fighting and dying in the Russian invasion.

They have also caused considerable consternation in Alberta’s Ukrainian community. It should be noted that Smith has issued an apology on Twitter in which she stated: “I categorically condemn the Russian invasion of Ukraine and the indescribable suffering Russia has and still is inflicting on the Ukrainian people.

“Prior to re-entering politics earlier this year, I made some ill-informed comments on Russia’s invasion of Ukraine. My knowledge and opinion of this matter have drastically evolved since that time, and I apologize for those previous comments.”

In that same tweet, she announced that she had directed her office to reach out to the Ukrainian community. She did meet with Ukraine’s Consul-General in Edmonton Oleksandr Danyleiko who informed her about the terrorist attacks, and war crimes against civilians, which the Russian Federation commits in Ukraine, and about the attempts to annex the temporarily occupied Ukrainian territory. He also made it clear there can be no peace negotiations that would involve Ukraine giving up any of its sovereign territory. When asked by this newspaper what her response to these points was, Danyleiko would not answer.

As for meeting with representatives of the Ukrainian community in Alberta, so far that hasn’t happened. To date, there has yet to be any response from the Premier or the Premier’s Office to a formal invitation from the Ukrainian Canadian Congress — Alberta Provincial Council for a meeting with community members. Nor has there been any response to multiple requests from this newspaper for an interview with the Premier.

If Smith is serious about reaching out to Alberta’s 370,000-strong Ukrainian community, then she had better get the ball rolling as soon as possible. For one thing it could help clear up the mystery of when and from where her great-Grandfather arrived from Ukraine, but far more important, she has to learn what specifically was wrong with her comments.

Let’s start with her livestream on Locals.com on April 29. When asked about her thoughts on the “peace plan for Ukraine, Russia”, Smith answered by giving a hypothetical situation where Canada has nuclear weapons and is aligned with Russia, and how that would upset the U.S. “So, why would we be surprised if Russia is upset because Ukraine has nuclear weapons and is aligned with the United States?” she said in the livestream.

To say that was “ill-informed” is a gross understatement. “Profoundly ignorant” is more applicable. Is not the Premier aware that Ukraine voluntarily gave up all her nuclear weapons under the Budapest Memorandum of 1994? Not only that but three other countries signed that Memorandum by which they pledged to respect Ukraine’s independence, sovereignty and territorial integrity. One of those signatories, the Russian Federation has grossly violated those terms. The other two signatories, the United Kingdom and the United States are not obligated to intervene militarily should Ukraine be invaded. However, were they to recognize an illegal Russian annexation of Ukrainian territory, they too would be in violation of the Memorandum. Which brings us to the whole question of diplomacy and negotiations with Russia – a proposal that is being brought forward by both the far left and far right. Or as Premier Smith put it an October 16 tweet: “Achieving peace is my greatest concern for Ukraine. That will be done with measured diplomacy, not virtue signalling.”

Precisely what is that supposed to mean? One does not engage in “measured diplomacy” with Vladimir Putin. He only knows brute force. Furthermore, Russia has never adhered to any diplomatic agreements it has made with Ukraine and this dates back to the Pereyaslav Treaty of 1654. Terms like “measured diplomacy” or “providing an off-ramp” for Putin are simply code words for making Ukraine give up part of its sovereign territory. That may placate some people in the west who find the current war inconvenient, but it would amount to the destruction of a rule-based international order intended to prevent war.

Any territorial concessions would only reward Russia for its unprovoked invasion, for the continued war crimes against civilians, for the destruction of civilian infrastructure, for the continuous torture of prisoners of war, for the continued rape of women and children. It would be an affront to all norms of human decency.

The only way for this war to end is for the last Russian and separatist forces to be driven out of all sovereign Ukrainian territory as recognized by its 1991 borders. Then we can talk about such matters as an international peacekeeping force to monitor the Russia-Ukraine border, reparations for the damage caused, bringing accused war criminals to justice and so on.

Premier Danielle Smith has definitely gotten off on the wrong foot insofar as her relations with Alberta’s Ukrainian community is concerned. But that can be corrected. However, it won’t be accomplished by a series of tweets. She needs to meet our representatives face to face so that serious issues can be discussed in a comprehensive manner. The Ukrainian community has reached out to Premier Smith to meet and discuss such issues. It’s now up to her to respond in good faith.

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