Hill Times | 13Apr2016 | Oksana Bashuk Hepburn
https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=kQybzuE48o4&feature=youtu.be [video; 05:19]
‘Responsible conviction’ should not mean rapprochement with Russia
Last month, Foreign Affairs Minister Stéphane Dion outlined the main
thrust of Canada’s foreign policy. The emphasis is on fighting climate
change, United Nations peacekeeping, post-conflict reconstruction
efforts, women and refugees.
It’s also on re-engagement -- solving political differences by talking
them through -- a Canadian way that works in some cases, but not in
In a destabilized world where dictators sow terror at home and abroad,
reaching out is not enough. In this context Mr. Dion’s intent to
re-engage with autocrats whom Canada has been shunning for disrupting
global peace and security sounds hokey. Similarly, his focus on
post-conflict reconstruction and refugees are the after-the-fact
response to horrific acts, rather than a strategy to stop rogue leaders.
True, thanks to punishing sanctions, some dictatorships, like Iran, are
moving forward and this warrants re-engagement. But not all.
President Vladimir Putin’s Russia is a warmongering state with blood
and destruction on its hands. Under his regime, dozens of journalists
and political activists have been murdered. His government has waged
war in Ukraine and Georgia and obliterated Chechnya. It suppresses free
press and opposition, promotes hate propaganda on RT, and assists
autocrats in countries like North Korea and Syria. Russia destabilizes
Europe and the Middle East. There is no contrition or letting up.
Rapprochement with Putin can’t possibly be a Canadian value or bring
positive results even if it’s done with “responsible conviction.”
Without a willingness to change by Russia, talk and re-engagement --
cornerstones of Mr. Dion’s policy -- become shameful capitulations to
Canada’s pro-Putin interests and their business-at-any-cost greed. When
it comes to Russia, the minister’s guiding principle for Canada to be
“a fair-minded and determined peacebuilder” is misguided.
Regrettably, Canada’s policy of engagement with Russia reads like the
peace-at-any-price offer by Neville Chamberlain to Hitler. Ultimately,
the appeasement led to the Second World War.
Re-engagement must not be one-sided. Russia must pay a price for the
grief and destruction it has sowed. To have better relations with
Canada, Mr. Putin’s Russia must adhere to international law and
agreements it has signed.
Mr. Dion argues that non-engagement with Russia did not help Ukraine or
Canada in the Arctic. This is partially true. It would be beneficial to
re-engage, if Russia were a trustworthy neighbour. It is not. Canada’s
engagement was limited because Russia invaded neighbouring Ukraine,
destroying life and property, demanding peace then breaking it in order
to pursue its imperialistic objectives.
Meanwhile in the Arctic, it’s flexing its muscles with some 30,000
personnel manoeuvres and building a fleet of 14 icebreakers. Is it
preparing for more than just talk?
It’s hard not to grimace at Mr. Dion’s assurances that Canada will have
its “eyes open” in re-establishing communications with Russia. The
words conjure an image of a wide-eyed kitten discussing jurisdiction
over the Arctic with a crazed bear.
Of course, Russia is happy to re-engage providing it’s not at its own
cost -- even better if the talk ends punishing sanctions or at least halts
any increases. The best scenario for Russia is engagement that allows
it to pursue its own goals, as it did in Syria.
Russia commented on Mr. Dion’s foreign policy. It blamed Canada for its
“self-isolation” without taking any responsibility for the chaos that
prompted it, and offered a threat rather than a thank-you for Mr.
Dion’s efforts: “unfriendly steps…will be met with resolve and
Since the Liberals were last in power, the world has destabilized
significantly, much of it due to Russia’s belligerence. Yet some
high-profile Canadians with business interests in Russia, or a desire to
have them, have urged Canada to re-engage. Such advice is self-serving,
indeed dangerous to Canada, yet it has become Mr. Dion’s policy. It is
already being acted out.
Global Affairs Canada is engaged in a trade mission to Ukraine in
concert with the Canada Eurasia Russia Business Association, a
pro-Putin entity. It’s surprising that Mr. Dion sanctioned a mission
comprising pro-Russia interests to explore Ukraine’s sensitive
aerospace sector. Did his staffers forget Russia is waging war against
Meanwhile, the Canada-Ukraine Chamber of Commerce, which together with
the Conference Board of Canada is managing a multi-million-dollar
project to promote Canada’s investment in Ukraine, is not involved in
Most democratically minded Canadians agree that Russia is a terrorist
state and the greatest adversary of the free world, including Canada.
Mr. Dion’s foreign policy is frightfully out of line with this reality.
It needs re-thinking.
Oksana Bashuk Hepburn is
a former policy adviser to the Canadian government.
The Hill Times