Canada’s embassy staff leaves Ukraine as Justin Trudeau unveils sweeping new sanctions against Russia


OTTAWA —The Canadian government piled on sweeping new sanctions Thursday in retaliation for Russia’s invasion of Ukraine, targeting individual members of President Vladimir Putin’s inner governing circle as well as major Russian banks.

Canada’s embassy personnel fled Ukraine ahead of the announcement in the hours after Russian forces swept into Ukraine via land, sea and air.

After Prime Minister Justin Trudeau huddled with G7 leaders on a call Thursday to co-ordinate the next round of sanctions, he told a midday news conference that the “unprovoked attack” on a sovereign nation in violation of international law was “the greatest threat to European stability” since the Second World War.

“President Putin’s brazen disregard for international law, democracy, and human life are a massive threat to security and peace around the world,” Trudeau said.

Flanked by Deputy Prime Minister Chrystia Freeland, Defense Minister Anita Anand and Foreign Affairs Minister Mélanie Joly, Trudeau said the consequences for Russia will be “severe.”

In addition to slapping sanctions on all Russian lawmakers who approved Putin’s offensive earlier this week, the Canadian government is now sanctioning 58 individuals and entities “including members of the Russian elite and their family members, as well as the Wagner Group and major Russian banks, among others,” said Trudeau.

Canada is targeting key players in Putin’s regime, including members of the Russian Security Council, and Russia’s defense, finance and justice ministers, Trudeau said.

Effective immediately, he said, Canada will cease all export permits for Russia and cancel existing permits.

Trudeau said the sanctions are “wide-reaching” and impose “severe costs on complicit Russian elites, and they will limit President Putin’s ability to continue funding this unjustified invasion.

Along with the US, UK and the European Union, Canada has already moved to halt Russia’s ability to borrow abroad, banning the purchase by Canadians of Russian sovereign debt, and has halted financial dealings with two state-backed Russian banks.

The Russian embassy warned Wednesday that it viewed “unilateral sanctions against Russia imposed by the Government of Canada” as “illegitimate and illegal,” and vowed retaliation “following the principle of reciprocity.”

“Russia’s recognition of the independence of the People’s Republics of Donetsk and Luhansk is irreversible,” the declaration said.

Trudeau also promised Canadians and permanent residents stranded in Ukraine that the government will help arrange “safe passage for you and your families at the land borders with Poland, Slovakia, Hungary, Romania, and Moldova.”

“We are urgently issuing travel documents for affected Canadians, permanent residents, and their immediate family members. We are also prioritizing immigration applications for Ukrainians who want to come to Canada,” Trudeau said.

As rockets arced over Ukraine’s borders and shelling began, the remaining 14 Canadian consular officials left the country.

“Due to the security situation in Ukraine, our diplomatic staff are now in Poland,” Joly said in a statement posted to Twitter.

Consular services “remain available to Canadians in Ukraine, and we are ready to deploy additional resources should there be a surge in demand.”

But those resources would be offered from outside Ukraine’s borders, at border entry points with Poland for example, for people now trying to flee the attacks.

Weeks ago, Canada evacuated family members of its Kyiv embassy staff, and urged Canadians in Ukraine who could leave to do so while commercial options were still available.

The airspace over Ukraine has now been closed to civilian flights.

In a statement issued Wednesday night, as it became clear Russia was advancing, Trudeau said “Canada condemns in the strongest possible terms Russia’s egregious attack on Ukraine. These unprovoked actions are a clear further violation of Ukraine’s sovereignty and territorial integrity. They are also in violation of Russia’s obligations under international law and the Charter of the United Nations.

“Russia’s brazen acts will not go unpunished.”

The Conservative-led Official Opposition, which has harshly criticized the Trudeau government’s response to date as weak and insufficient, issued a statement of “solidarity” with Ukraine on Thursday, and avoided direct criticism of the government.

“Together with millions of Canadians and the Ukrainian community in Canada, we condemn Putin’s actions,” Interim Conservative Leader Candice Bergen said in the statement.

“Putin’s contemplative aggression and invasion of Ukraine is unacceptable. His attack on the Ukrainian people and their democratically elected government is despicable.

“Autocrats like Putin should and will be judged harshly. Conservatives stand ready to defend the rules-based international order against these grievous violations of international law.”

Other opposition parties called on the government to significantly step up its regime of sanctions against Russia.

Bloc Québécois Leader Yves-François Blanchet called on Canada to impose the “most severe” economic sanctions possible to hammer the Russian economy “because that’s the only reason to make the Russian dictator go back.”

NDP Leader Jagmeet Singh said Canada should do everything short of sending more weapons or troops to Ukraine. More economic sanctions on Russian oligarchs close to Putin, the seizure of assets, and the exclusion of Russia from the global SWIFT bank transaction system should all be deployed after the invasion of Ukraine, Singh said.

NDP foreign affairs critic Heather McPherson told the Star that Canada should consider an embargo on imports of oil and gas from Russia.

The NDP also stressed Canada should “streamline” the process to accept an expected wave of Ukrainian refugees as quickly as possible. Singh said Canada should consider all options to ensure this happens, including the removal of any visa requirements for Ukrainians to come here, and to remove any online application processes that he argued have slowed refugees trying to flee Afghanistan after it fell to the Taliban last year .

“There’s a crisis that’s emerging right now and we need to be able to help people to get out of acute pain,” Singh said.

The Ukrainian Canadian Congress is also calling on Canada to take firm action against Russia. In a statement to the Star, Congress head Ihor Michalchyshyn said the “sources of funding to Putin’s war machine need to be cut off.”

Michalchyshyn said countries need to provide more weapons to Ukraine, including “anti-air systems like stinger missiles and other air defense and naval defense systems” and to impose a “no-fly” zone above the country to protect civilians from Russian bombardment.

“In the 1930s, the world was slow to recognize the danger that Adolf Hitler posed to our civilization. We cannot make that same mistake again with Putin,” Michalchyshyn said.

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