The downing of a Malaysian civilian jet focused world attention anew on Russia’s role in the separatist uprising in eastern Ukraine. Ukraine’s ambassador to Canada, Vadym Prystaiko, talked with Mark Kennedy about the crisis. This conversation has been edited for length and clarity.
Q. It seems like there is chaos. What’s happening at the crash site?
A. It’s in the middle of the separatist controlled region. It’s very difficult to get there. We’re not considering the military option of securing it, because by this we will completely damage the whole site. So we are trying to achieve an understanding with these rebels.
Q. What happened here?
A. We have to be fair, 100 per cent, and the investigators should find out the reasons and the perpetrators and bring them to justice.
Q. Our own government, (Foreign Affairs Minister John) Baird, suggests it was the separatist rebels and they got the weapon from Russia.
A. I still believe that with everything that is going on in Ukraine, even these people have some humanity and they would not be shooting at the plane for political reasons. What I suspect is they were trying to down a Ukrainian airplane, which they did just two days before this crash.
Q. What responsibility does Russian President Vladimir Putin bear?
A. The investigation can take long, over a year. The question is: If you don’t have the remnants of the rocket, for example, who will be to blame? Or if you have the rocket, how do we know who pushed the button? If it is buried in Russian territory, how can investigators prove anything?
Q. Do you hope countries will now be more inclined to impose sanctions against Russia?
A. My hope was that a couple of days ago, having such a tragedy on his hand, Mr. Putin would think, “We can’t do it anymore. They just shot 300 people down from the sky. We should stop helping them with anti-aircraft rockets and everything else.” Unfortunately, after an initial hesitation, he decided to move ahead.
Q. This conflict has been going on for months. Did last week’s crash change what the world thinks?
A. It’s unfortunate we have to fight. We are not somebody who came to somebody else’s territory. That’s our territory. They came to us. They took over Crimea. They are doing the same thing here.
Q. Mr. Putin says Ukrainians and others are exploiting the plane crash for political goals.
A. They were saying so many different lies. I would not waste my time. There was a story of a three-year-old boy being nailed to a board, being crucified by the Ukrainian army and the mother dragged behind a tank. It was on Russian national TV. There were no pictures, no facts. So I understand why Russians would believe anything. You attribute this to your enemy and understand that they are not human any more.
Q. Is Putin having second thoughts?
A. No. Western leaders say to us you have to lay down your weapons and find a political solution. What do well-meaning people mean when they say find a political solution? In Canada, in the 1970s, how many days did it take for your government to take tanks and military into the streets? Days. Because they understood the danger of this violence, terrorism and separatism.
Q. This was in Quebec (with the War Measures Act).
A. Yes, there are so many other examples where governments would react immediately. You have to contain this. Because if you are not containing, it will grow.
Q. What do you think of Canada’s support (for Ukraine)?
A. Canada is seriously assertive. The leader of the free world, which your southern neighbour used to be before. We have been supported by Canada from the very beginning.
Q. Do you have enough support from us?
A. We need military support. We need equipment. I know countries are very hesitant about it. I understand why, diplomatically. Imagine something happens to some foreign national and he is shot by a Canadian rifle. But we will be happy if we are provided other support, like vests, helmets, goggles, all-terrain vehicles, drones, blackberries, medicine.
Q. Do you think Russia wants peace?
A. No, I think Russia will be happy if we have this regional problem which will draw blood and money out of us. We have to either cut it or clear it. It’s a surgical operation. We have no other choice.