Kyiv Post | 05Feb2016 | Oksana Bashuk Hepburn

Lavrov's 'rabid' Canadians comment

Russia under President Vladimir Putin disregards rather than promotes global peace and security. Criticizing Russia’s disregard for international law is every Canadian’s right; nay moral obligation. But calling Canadians “rabid” for doing so, and singling out a particular group, the Ukrainian community in Canada who know Russia’s devious ways better than most, is hate mongering. Russia’s Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov did just that.

Canada’s Minister for Foreign Affairs Stephen Dion shot back calling the slur “inadmissible.” The next step is to call in Russia’s ambassador to remind that Canada will continue its criticism and that sanctions against Russia will hold until its dastardly behavior improves. And seek an apology for the slur.

Although Lavrov’s intentions may have intended to deflect from Russia’s crimes, in fact, the name-calling has lowered its international standing further. It has broken yet another rule: diplomatic politeness. This should not surprise: Russia is immune to breaking whatever is needed to achieve its Machiavellian ends of global expansionism.

Recall, that by invading Ukraine’s Crimea it broke international law and continues to do so by holding it and presently escalating the war in the Donbas. Putin’s Russia disregarded the Budapest Memorandum in which it promised to “protect” Ukraine against invasions and in so doing seduced it into giving up its nuclear capability to -- who else -- Russia.

Presently, its violations of the Minsk peace agreements are the stuff of daily news. It shells Ukraine with illegal military hardware, kills over 2,000, maims, rapes and abducts into the sex trade, destroys most of the infrastructure -- roads, airports, water, electricity supplies -- in Ukraine’s territory that it holds illegally. Clearly, Russia deserves the criticism it gets and the mistrust.

Going forward, Mr. Dion wants to engage Russia in discussions including Canada’s Arctic. Our foreign minister needs to remember that past performance is a better indicator of future behavior than words.

There were years of discussion with Russia on the Budapest Memorandum. Ukraine gave up its nukes; now Russia is threating the entire world.

There is endless discussion regarding Russia’s need to withdraw from Ukraine. More. Each time Ukraine was winning militarily, “diplomatic” Minsk cease-fire talks were offered only to be broken by Russia. The massacre at Debaltsevo and the purposeful destruction of the Donbas airport illustrate sufficiently that Russia talks to gain advantage rather than settle an issue.

This applies not only to Ukraine. Russia habitually makes promises only to break them. Among the most recent is its hoodwinking in Syria where Russia promised to be part of the effort to deal with President Assad’s autocratic regime.

Yet with its first foray Russia bombed the very people it promised to protect -- the anti-presidential rebels -- and unleashed a tsunami of refugees, a disaster for Syria and as it is turning out, for Europe too. Meanwhile, it is saving the president’s regime and making further gains for itself in the Middle East and destabilizing Europe; all self-serving goals.

Dion has been in office long enough to know that Russia has already laid claim to parts of Canada’s Arctic. More talk will not change this. Rather, it will give Russia time to further its ends.

Lavrov's appeal to “common interests” with Canada citing the Arctic is little more than a diversion. Russia’s overriding interest at the moment is to lift the economic sanctions by splitting the West’s resolve --  be it by marginalizing its’ critics by name-calling or ingratiating itself by pretending that Canada’s Arctic is a talking point rather than our territory.

Canada must not fall for this. In order to protect our Arctic, Canada needs to talk -- above all -- with the United States to ensure a strong defence against Russia’s global appetite. This approach, rather than repeat the faux pas in Syria -- withholding the C-18 -- will gain Canada a greater international role as Prime Minister Justin Trudeau promised during the elections.

Dion does not need to look far. It is staring the government in the face.

It means protection of our Arctic with credible partners; upholding democratic values by supporting fledgling democracies against vicious bullies; applying sanctions for criminal behaviour of rogue states and, at home, demanding an apology from a vicious state for unacceptable name-calling of Canada’s citizens practicing their rights.

But a larger role in global affairs will not be achieved by abandoning our proven allies or seeking dialogue with a pathological liar.

Dion, Canada is highly regarded in the world. Keep at it.

Oksana Bashuk Hepburn, a former senior policy advisor in the government of Canada, specializes in Canada-Ukraine relations.