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Ambassador Shevchenko's interview for "IPolitics"
18 January 2017 21:43

Canada and Russia are 'at war'

already, says Ukrainian envoy

Andriy Shevchenko says Canada should have extended Ukraine mission


Amanda Connolly



Wednesday, January 18th, 2017

The West — including Canada — needs to wake up to the fact that it’s

already at war with Russia, and Canadian policymakers need to send

clear signals to the Kremlin about which side they are on, says Ukraine’s

ambassador to Canada.

In a wideranging interview with iPolitics, Andriy Shevchenko said that

while his country is optimistic Canada will extend the training mission in

the west of the country, he wants Canadians to understand that attempts

by Russia to influence and undermine Western democracies constitute

acts of modern warfare — and they can’t be ignored.

“This is a reality that the West has to face as well,” he said. “Our clear

understanding of this moment is we are at war and we are on the same

side. Sooner or later this is the reality we will have to accept and we will

have to have very mature, strong and thoughtful conversations about the


 “We have got to be together, not just because democracies should stay

together, not just because good, right people should stay together. It’s a

matter of survival because we are facing a very existential threat.”

Russian President Vladimir Putin annexed Crimea in 2014 and triggered a

crisis in relations between the West and Russia that some have described

as a new Cold War.

That invasion sparked deadly conflicts along Ukraine’s eastern border

between proRussian separatists and Ukrainian government forces, and

prompted Canada to commit 200 troops to help train Ukrainian soldiers at

a military base on the western side of the country.

This year also will see thousands of NATO troops deploy to Eastern

Europe in a coordinated effort meant to deter Russia from similar


Canada will lead one of those four NATO battalions on a mission in Latvia

and Ottawa has committed to deploying 450 troops there, as well as light

armoured vehicles and other military equipment.

Soldiers from Albania, Italy, Poland and Slovenia also will form part of that

battle group, while Germany, the United States and Britain will lead similar

units in Lithuania, Poland and Estonia.

While the first Canadian troops on that mission are set to deploy in March

2017, the training mission in Ukraine — Operation Unifier — is set to

expire that same month.

Shevchenko says the signals he has received from Canadian officials give

him reason to hope the mission will be renewed, adding that dragging the

decision out does not send a clear and strong signal to Putin and the


“Even as we talk, there are people in the Kremlin who keep planning their

activities in Ukraine and in other parts of the world,” he said, citing the

need to send a strong deterrent signal to Putin as attacks by proRussian

separatists intensify on Ukraine’s eastern borders. “We really feel that this

public announcement of a continuation of this mission could have

happened earlier.”

Russia rattled the pillars of Western democracy with its highprofile

interference in the U.S. presidential election in favour of Donald Trump.

Intelligence agencies in the U.S. have released a nonclassified

report on the extent of that influence, pointing to evidence that the campaign to

sway the electorate towards Trump came from Putin himself and warning

American allies that their elections could be next.

Two European nations, Germany and France, both have elections coming

up this year and officials there are bracing for influence campaigns similar to

what was seen in the U.S.

German officials said last week they are investigating the spread

of fake news ahead of the election and may establish a separate

government press office to respond to fake news, following a model

introduced by the Czech Republic last month.

Shevchenko said efforts to sway voters and galvanize proRussian

supporters online is an extension of the kind of propaganda warfare seen

in past conflicts.

“During World War Two, the armies also dealt with leaflets when they

threw them at each other,” he said. “Now it’s Facebook and Twitter but

again, we are talking about war.”

When asked about the effect Trump’s election has had on Ukraine’s

response to the threat posed by Russia, the ambassador said he thinks

the uncertainty over just how relations between the U.S. and Russia will

develop under the new administration has forced Ukraine to take a harder

look at who its friends are.

Canada will soon find itself in the same position, Shevchenko said.

“I think in a way the U.S. election has helped us to think about our future in

a more profound way,” he said. “I think (Canada) now finds itself in a more

leadership role than ever. Countries like Ukraine expect of Canada to play

a stronger role, in many ways to educate the new administration on many

issues, including ours.”

Trudeau shuffled his cabinet last week in a move interpreted as an effort

to better match his front bench with the attitudes and approaches of the

incoming U.S. administration. The biggest change was the appointment of

former international trade minister Chrystia Freeland as minister of

Foreign Affairs.

Freeland, a former Financial Times journalist with extensive experience

covering Eastern Europe and Russia, has been a vocal supporter of

Ukraine and is of Ukrainian descent herself.

Her appointment was seen by many as an attempt to focus Canada’s

diplomatic efforts on the Canada U.S. trade relationship, and to send a

strong signal about Trudeau’s intention to criticize Russia’s aggression in

Eastern Europe and support Ukraine.

Shevchenko — who worked as a journalist for multiple outlets, including

Voice of America, before receiving the Press Freedom Award from

Reporters Without Borders in 2005 and moving into politics — said he

frequently worked alongside Freeland when they were both reporters.

While he said her appointment was greeted with enthusiasm in Ukraine,

his time working with her suggests Ukraine shouldn’t expect special

treatment on her watch.

Still, Shevchenko said he looks forward to seeing what she does in the

portfolio and how she, and Canada, will step up when it matters most.

“I think in many senses this time really separates different nations,

different politicians on the basis of values,” he said. “It’s a very good time

to understand who is actually standing for what kind of values.”


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