Canada’s Twitter battle with Russia marks a new kind of diplomatic push

OTTAWA — Canada may have no weapons left on its shelves to give Ukraine, but the federal government is making clear it can still fight with words.

Both publicly and behind the scenes, Ottawa is amping up efforts to get more countries to marginalize Russia for its invasion of Ukraine, a military offensive that’s now claimed thousands of lives, displaced millions of people and is raising the specter of a third world war.

The diplomatic push has risen to a new level over a resolution introduced by Russia at the United Nations Security Council.

The resolution called for protection for civilians “in vulnerable situations” in Ukraine and safe passage for humanitarian aid and people seeking to leave the country. It also underscores the need for “the parties concerned” to agree on pauses in the hostilities to rapidly evacuate “all civilians.”

However, it made no explicit mention of the war, nor of Russia’s involvement or responsibility for starting it.

The resolution had already been sharply criticized for what the British called “glaring omissions” when the Canadian mission went one step further on Thursday, releasing an annotated version of a letter released by the Russian UN mission to make its case.

Like a teacher criticizing a student’s badly worded essay, the Canadian mission struck out and rewrote sections of the letter, offering scathing commentary about Russian claims it called, among other things, “craven and farcical.” The mission left almost no lines of the letter untouched before posting the annotated version to Twitter with a sarcastic note.

“Thank you @RussiaUN for your letter dated March 16,” the post said. “Please see our suggested edits below.”

Later Thursday, Russia reportedly withdrew the resolution from consideration by the Security Council.

Russian diplomats have routinely taken Canadian officials to task for their statements on Ukraine, and have accused them, as well as other Western nations, of trafficking in misinformation about the war.

The social media missile marked a departure from the usual practice of diplomacy in times of conflict — in meetings behind closed doors, in the highly regimented forum of international gatherings, or on telephone calls between world leaders with nearly ever sentence of the subsequent summaries parsed for actual meaning.

But the diplomacy taking place amid this war is happening at lightning speed and changing on the fly, as the Star reported last week after witnessing Canadian officials in action on a trip to Europe.

Bob Rae, Canada’s ambassador to the United Nations, is also active on social media, where he has defended his unvarnished criticism of Russia.

“Some say I should be more ‘diplomatic,’ but this equates diplomacy with denying, running away, looking at your shoes and speaking words with, as Orwell said, ‘the force of pure wind,’” he wrote Thursday.

“Speaking plainly in public and private is always a good idea. I shall continue to do so.”

Meanwhile, Canadian government officials continue to explore what more can be done to help Ukraine.

Defense Minister Anita Anand told CBC’s “Power and Politics” on Wednesday that Canada has now “exhausted” the store of weapons and other military aid that it can provide without comprising the readiness requirements of the Canadian Armed Forces.

On Thursday, Anand’s spokesperson told the Star the flow of military aid to Ukraine is not going to dry up, but it will have to come from somewhere else.

“Canada is both willing and able to provide Ukraine with additional military equipment from other sources,” Daniel Minden said.

The United States announced Wednesday that it would provide Ukraine an additional $US800 million in military assistance, including anti-aircraft missiles and drones, a commitment made after Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskyy delivered a dramatic speech to the US Congress as part of his ongoing efforts to lobby for a more robust international response.

Zelenskyy’s speech to parliamentarians in Ottawa on Tuesday had the same goal, but was unmatched by any new commitments from the Canadian government.

Nonetheless, Prime Minister Justin Trudeau did speak with Zelenskyy on Wednesday, the latest of what are becoming regular calls between the two leaders, who have developed a personal relationship over the last three years.

The purpose of the call was to thank Zelenskyy for his remarks to Parliament, and reassure him that Canada is continuing efforts to rally more support for Ukraine’s fight.

In recent days, Trudeau has spoken to a number of world leaders about Ukraine, including the president of Indonesia late Wednesday.

That country is the host of this year’s G20, a group of 19 nations and the European Union that focuses on global economic, political and social alliances.

Russia is a G20 member, and the prospect of its presence at this year’s summit is a growing source of tension.

Following Russia’s invasion of Crimea in 2014, Canadian prime minister Stephen Harper spoke frankly to Russian President Vladimir Putin at that year’s summit. “I guess I’ll shake your hand,” Harper told Putin, “but I have only one thing to say to you: You need to get out of Ukraine.”

In advance of this fall’s G20 summit, pressure is already building for the group to reconsider Russia’s membership.

In a written summary of his call with Indonesian President Joko Widodo, it was apparent that’s already on Trudeau’s mind. “The prime minister cautioned that Russia’s invasion of Ukraine would certainly have an impact on co-operation within the G20,” the statement said he.

The more-pressing summit is an upcoming meeting of the leaders of NATO members in Brussels, which Trudeau will attend next week.

Zelenskyy has repeatedly called for the implementation of a “no-fly zone” over Ukraine, which Western nations have rejected as a strategy that would inevitably bring NATO fighter jets into direct combat with Russian forces.

US Secretary of Defense Lloyd Austin again ruled that out Thursday after a meeting with his Slovakian counterpart.

“There’s no such thing as a ‘no-fly-zone light,’” Austin told reporters. “A no-fly zone means that you’re in a conflict with Russia.”


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