Canada and Russia are 'at war'
already, says Ukrainian envoy
Andriy Shevchenko says Canada should have extended Ukraine mission
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
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
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.”