Winnipeg Free Press | 01Nov2015 | Oksana Bashuk Hepburn
Trudeau must get tough on Putin
Prime Minster Stephen Harper often punched above Canada’s weight by
making Ukraine’s just fight for sovereignty and territorial integrity
one of Canada’s central foreign policy issues. Canada was noticed and
praised for standing up to the bully.
Canada’s federal election returned the Liberals to centre stage and
relegated the Conservatives to the Opposition. Given the shift, what
are the implications for Canada’s foreign policy regarding Ukraine?
Here, Prime Minster Stephen Harper often punched above Canada’s weight
by making Ukraine’s just fight for sovereignty and territorial
integrity one of Canada’s central foreign policy issues. Canada was
noticed and praised for standing up to the bully.
For example, in 2011, when Russia’s expansionism would have brought
laughter from seasoned diplomats to worries from Ukraine’s patriots,
the prime minister telephoned then-president Viktor Yanukovych to
remind him to respect the rule of law and release illegally
incarcerated prime minister Yulia Tymoshenko.
Harper visited Maidan in visible support to protests against government
corruption. After Russia’s soldiers moved on Crimea, he denounced the
aggression and clearly stated Canada’s position against recognizing the
illegal annexation. His government stood firmly behind Ukraine’s
defence of its sovereignty and territorial integrity against its
gigantic neighbour’s military invasion.
Russia’s invasion came in response to Ukraine’s choice to move toward
European integration rather than closer association with Russia. It has
killed 7,000, wounded nearly 14,000 and displaced 1.5 million.
To assist in this political and humanitarian crisis, the Conservatives
committed $700 million with a large part earmarked for fighting
corruption, indispensable to stabilizing Ukraine and diminishing the
grip of Russia-controlled oligarchs still exercising political control.
Canada also supported the rogue state’s exclusion from the G8 where
President Vladimir Putin’s aggression stood in marked contrast to
democratic values of the other members. Harper took an unprecedented
step. He told Putin to "get out of Ukraine." This was a show of
confidence for Canada, a moral boost for Ukraine and a public shaming
of the man who wants to make Russia great by resorting to global chaos.
During the election campaign, prime minister-designate Justin Trudeau
also promised to be tough with Russia. Trudeau stated Russia is
"dangerous" to eastern Europe and "provocative" in the Arctic. He
believes "Canada needs to continue to stand strongly with the
international community pushing back against the bully."
Furthermore, the Liberal government promises to deal with Russia and
press for the release of Ukraine’s political prisoners, including most
famously the Russia-kidnapped pilot Nadia Savchenko. As well, it wants
the removal of Russia from the global banking system that allows money
to flow internationally.
These are good reasons to believe he will continue backing Ukraine. He
will be helped by 188 elected Liberals including seasoned pro-Ukraine
members such as former minister Ralph Goodale and Winnipeg’s Kevin
Canada elected 11 MPs of Ukrainian descent. Among them are six from the
west; three from Manitoba including the well-respected Conservative and
former parliamentary secretary for defence James Bezan
(Selkirk-Interlake) along with two Liberals Terry (Taras) Duguid
(Winnipeg South) and Mary Ann Mihychuk (Kildonan-St. Paul).
Now’s the time for Trudeau to make good on his election promises. He
can start by holding Putin to international law, and here he is in an
enviable position. Based on the Munk foreign-policy debates held during
the election campaign, he should have no trouble getting approval of
his plans in the House of Commons. All leaders agreed Russia’s
aggression must stop.
Oksana Bashuk Hepburn, a former Government of Canada senior policy
adviser, is a co-founder of the Canadian Group for Democracy in Ukraine.