Over the past couple months, I have had the opportunity to participate in community roundtables initiated by Canadian government officials on the crisis in Ukraine. On March 21, the same day Russia formally annexed the Crimean peninsula, I attended a meeting headed by Paul Dewar (Ottawa-Centre) who is the Official Opposition Critic for Foreign Affairs. More recently, I was also able to attend roundtables led by MPs Lawrence Toet (Elmwood-Transcona) and James Bezan (Selkirk-Interlake) as well as The Honourable Christian Paradis (Mégantic–L’Érable), Minister of International Development and Minister for La Francophonie. During these meetings, many questions were raised about the Canadian government’s response to date while numerous proposals were floated about how Canada can potentially further assist Ukraine.
The multiple crises and conflict in Ukraine have galvanized the Ukrainian-Canadian community into action. However, it is important to emphasize that events on the Maidan, Crimea’s annexation, and armed conflict in eastern Ukraine connect all Canadians from all cultural backgrounds as fundamental values and international security are being threatened.
Needless to say, Canada is not a global military power. Although, Canada has often been referred to as a “middle-power” with the ability to “punch above its weight” on the international stage. Canada has a voice, but what should that voice say? What actions should the Canadian government be taking? The government has continued to enact sanctions, visa restrictions, and asset freezes against Russian and Ukrainian officials connected to the violence and Crimea’s annexation. Canadian Forces have suspended relations with the Russian military. Operational support for the NATO ‘reassurance package’ has also been provided while over $255 million in humanitarian and financial assistance has been promised to Ukraine’s government. Are these types of actions adequate? Are they insufficient?
Using the hashtag #myUAfp (my Ukraine foreign policy), join the virtual roundtable via social media platforms and share your thoughts on how Canada should be responding to Ukraine’s needs. Here are mine:
1) Trade, Investment, and Growth
The Honourable Ed Fast, Minister of International Trade, recently led a three-day Trade and Development Mission to Ukraine. During this trip, the Canadian delegation met with Ukrainian Cabinet Ministers while reinforcing Canada’s support for Ukraine through trade, investment, and growth. Minister Fast and Minister Pavlo Sheremeta, Ukraine’s Minister of Economic Development and Trade, also discussed ways to advance the Canada-Ukraine Free Trade Agreement and prospects for kickstarting negotiations as they were shelved in the fall of 2013. Given the fragility of the Ukrainian economy and the recent signing of the EU Association Agreement, it is imperative that Canada and Ukraine return to the negotiating table as soon as possible. Canada could also potentially initiate a Trade and Investment Conference in Canada or Ukraine geared towards Canadian companies. Many Canadian businesses in the aerospace, information technologies, agribusiness, and financial services industries will find that their products, services, and expertise are complementary to Ukraine’s needs. Canada should also consider visa liberalization as numerous studies have shown how the easing of travel restrictions facilitates trade and economic growth. Moreover, the EU is intending to organize and host a major International Donor Conference in support of Ukraine later this year. Canada should lend its support to this initiative.
2) Humanitarian Relief
There are currently over 110,000 IDPs formally registered in Ukraine due to Crimea’s annexation and the violence resulting from the fighting in eastern Ukraine. According to UNHCR estimates, a third of displaced people are children. Many of these people lack basic resources (water, food, clothing) as numerous shortcomings and gaps in the government’s response have clearly been evident. As the ongoing violence is showing numerous signs characteristic of a path leading towards a protracted conflict, the humanitarian situation is likely to worsen. Therefore, Canada should immediately increase its humanitarian assistance to Ukraine. For more information regarding the humanitarian crisis unfolding, please consult the latest UN report on the human rights situation in Ukraine.
3) Public administration reform assistance
Given the extent of corruption in Ukraine, government institutions do not need to be tinkered with. They need to be completely overhauled and comprehensive structural reforms need to be implemented. In this regard, Canada is uniquely positioned to offer assistance. For example, Canada could increase its support for reforms to Ukraine’s notoriously corrupt judicial and policing systems. Other initiatives could focus on helping Ukraine reform its civil service, highly inefficient industrial and agricultural sectors, and the banking and financial services industry. Canadian expertise could also be provided to assist in matters pertaining to taxation, bilingualism, cultural programming, minority rights, and the devolution of power. Ukraine’s government is facing demands for reforms in difficult historical and dramatic conditions. It is simply not in a position to address these issues alone. Ukraine needs partners willing to step up to the plate.
4) Counter-insurgency support
In March 2014, Canada formally ended its 12-year mission in Afghanistan. As such, the Canadian Forces should be in a position to offer much needed counter-insurgency expertise by sharing best practices, strategies, and tactics with their Ukrainian counterparts. Personally, I do not agree with the provision of lethal military aid or “boots on the ground” in Ukraine as I believe that this will not only prolong the armed conflict but also reinforce anti-Western perceptions in the Donbas, which will further complicate the Ukraine’s government ability to implement reforms. However, non-lethal military aid such as body amour, night vision goggles, and medical kits could be provided. The sharing of military intelligence and deployment of reconnaissance drones for surveillance purposes could also help with identifying insurgent positions and the Russian military buildup along the border. Such support may prove vital as Putin is “doubling down” and providing more weaponry and financial support to pro-Russian insurgents.
5) Rome Statute
In January 2000, Ukraine signed the Rome Statute to the International Criminal Court. However, the Verkhovna Rada has never ratified the Statute as its provisions were deemed to be in contravention of state legislation. Given the violence associated with the EuroMaidan movement and the continuing armed conflict in the Donbas, Ukraine must take immediate action to prevent impunity. Immediate ratification of the Rome Statute would not only signify a clear break from the past but also a commitment to justice and accountability in the future. Preventing future violations of human rights abuses is of the utmost importance. Therefore, the Canadian government should pressure the Ukrainian government to ratify the Rome Statue as Canada is committed to protecting human rights and was an integral actor at the centre of the creation of the ICC. This could easily be done by Canadian government officials or via diplomatic channels.
Interestingly, Canada has free trade agreements in force with more than 10 countries. Only two of these countries, the United States and Israel, are not state parties to the Rome Statute. However, these countries “unsigned” the Rome Statute after free trade agreements with Canada were brought into force. As both Canada and Ukraine have expressed interest in restarting free trade negotiations, ratification of the Rome Statute could be set as a precondition that needs to be satisfied before Canada returns to the negotiating table.
In relation to Crimea’s annexation, the Ukrainian government will need to develop a restitution strategy to re-claim the ownership (or at least sue for compensation) of its lucrative Crimean assets from Russia by taking its case before international courts. In fact, Ukraine has already filed lawsuits to dispute the illegal actions of Russia. Complications and delays will assuredly result from this foreseeable prolonged legal process. Canada could assist Ukraine with devising a legal strategy to frustrate Russia’s efforts. It is also important for the Canadian government to continually emphasize that Crimea belongs to Ukraine and the Canadian government will never recognize the peninsula’s annexation. Even though the legal position currently favours Ukraine, this position will likely erode over time as realities on the ground evolve. This has happened numerous times in regard to the other land grabs. Simply, the issue of “Crimea is Ukraine” must be kept alive.
These are only some of the areas in which Canada can further assist Ukraine. Many other possibilities can and should be considered. For example, the Canadian federal government and the provincial governments could take the initiative by encouraging educational opportunities for young Ukrainians to study in Canada. Such initiatives could include increased funding for scholarships, internship programs (e.g., Canada-Ukraine Parliamentary Program), or student exchanges with partner universities. In relation to the dependency of many European countries on Russian oil and natural gas, Canada could also be promoted as a secure and reliable energy provider. Lobbying the French government to reconsider the sale of Mistral-class warships to Russia or appealing for sanctions without loopholes are also important initiatives. The possibilities are endless.
Join the conversation by using the hashtag #myUAfp!
By Nick Krawetz