The recent words by the Minister of Foreign Affairs Stéphane Dion that “it was time to start working with Russia ‘when we have common interests'” (http://www.cbc.ca/news/politics/russia-canada-relations-diplomacy-dion-lavrov-1.3420781) caused a media stir. Were those words a harbinger of new, less friendly, approach by Canada to Ukraine? When it comes to finding a newly elected government’s position on an important international policy issue, it is often a good idea to wait and see.
In this case, the wait paid off quite quickly and in recent days Minister Dion has moved to dispel doubts about Canada’s support for Ukraine. First, he defended the Ukrainian Canadian community before Russia’s Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov who called the members of the community “unbridled”. Stéphane Dion said in Parliament: “we deeply disagree with the invasion and interference of the Russian government in Ukraine” and “we will not tolerate from a Russian minister any insults against the community of Ukraine in Canada.”
Secondly, while visiting Ukraine on Monday, February 1st, 2016, Stéphane Dion underscored Canada’s unwavering support for Ukraine and said that “the Canadian government intends to speak clearly, bluntly and directly to Russia about its unacceptable actions in Ukraine.” In his statement, he said something very important by underlining that “Canada continues to support full implementation of the Minsk Agreements, particularly by Russia.” Minister Dion’s words coincided with German Chancellor Angela Merkel’s comments made on the same day, namely that the sanctions will not be lifted until Russia implements the Agreements.
This detail is paramount for Ukraine’s prospects of restoring its sovereignty, but the fight for the implementation of the Minsk Agreements is far from over. While the current sanctions will remain intact until late June 2016, what is troubling are widespread rumours that some European countries want to ease or lift sanctions against Russia, even before Russia implements the Minsk Agreements.
Italy is a case in point. This past January 29th, its Foreign Minister Paolo Gentiloni said that he would be “happy” to lift or ease the sanctions in June if the EU finds that the Agreements have been implemented “enough”. We believe that Canada should continue its role of reminding its European counterparts that the Minsk Agreements will never be implemented enough until Russia withdraws all its troops from the Donbas and allows Ukraine to safely control its own border.
Russia says that Ukraine should first adopt changes to its constitution that would, in effect, give a free hand to the Russia-backed terrorists. It is a matter of dignity for the EU to reject the Kremlin’s plan to maim Ukraine’s Constitution and to hold elections in the Donbas under the barrel of a Russian gun. Canada’s challenge remains to work hard to persuade the Europeans to not to give in to Russia lest the security of Ukraine and the whole Western alliance be jeopardized.