OTTAWA — Russia’s ambassador to Canada has criticized Justin Trudeau’s decision to send more military personnel to Ukraine, denied that Russia would invade Ukraine, and says the Liberal government’s portrayal of an epic struggle against authoritarianism is cartoonish and unhelpful.
In a comprehensive interview with Star Thursday, a day after the prime minister announced that Ottawa will send non-lethal military equipment, it will expand a military training mission in Ukraine along with the presentation of intelligence and cyber defense support, Ambassador Oleg Stepanov said it was regrettable. that Canada will expand its military presence and provide Ukraine with more equipment.
Canada will supply about $ 2 million worth of metal detectors, thermal binoculars, laser rangefinders, armor plates, tires, tactical medical bags, and is expected to ship the material within the next two to three days, the Department of National Defense said. It is not yet known when the additional 60 Canadian Forces personnel will be deployed. But it will not send deadly weapons yet – a decision the government is still considering.
Stepanov said that although Russia does not view Canada’s moves as aggressive, “our position is that that country that is in a state of civil war should not be provided with military expertise or military equipment because it only feeds the conflict in addition,” said Stepanov, adding. that the best way to resolve the “conflict” in eastern Ukraine is “through diplomacy.” He denied that Russia itself was inciting conflict in eastern Ukraine where pro-Russian separatist forces were fighting against the western Ukrainian security forces.
President Vladimir Putin’s envoy to Ottawa has suggested Trudeau should reach out directly to the Russian leader to establish a communication channel. “It will at least provide an opportunity for the Government of Canada to gain a clearer Russian perspective and make a sovereign assessment and let the sovereign decide how to deal with the current situation.”
Stepanov, an experienced Russian diplomat and fluent English speaker who had previously been posted to San Francisco and Washington, DC, and to Tbilisi, Georgia, said the broader issue for Russia was his concern about NATO’s own enlargement, and that Russia “not Ukraine” will not invade. . ”
“We are not going to … try to disrupt that territorial integrity of Ukraine. We recognize Ukraine as a sovereign state. But what is really going on between Russia and NATO, especially Russia and the United States, is that we want to return to the negotiating table to provide for equal and indivisible security for all members of the Euro-Atlantic community. “
Asked how he could be sure that Putin would not invade Ukraine further, the ambassador said: “We are very realistic and very pragmatic in our foreign policy. So every step, every international step taken by the Russian government, should benefit Russia’s interests, right? So I do not see how it will serve Russian interests if we invade Ukraine. This is going to be war. It’s going to be human tragedy. It is a responsibility and it is not what we want. ”
Russia already bears the cost of social welfare and education for some two million Ukrainians living in Russia, half of whom, according to him, have fled the conflict and “this is an obvious additional pressure on our budget. It would be in our interest to resolve that conflict and restore peace in Ukraine. “So there is no point in invading Ukraine to make it cynical, if you will.”
Stepanov responded directly to remarks by Trudeau and Deputy Prime Minister Chrystia Freeland that Canada and its allies were “strongly” opposed to authoritarianism and trying to maintain “international rules-based order”. The ambassador laughed and dismissed it as “staggering” rhetoric and a meaningless slogan.
“It’s just an attempt by the collective West, the former, actually, colonial nations, to invent those rules for themselves and to try to impose those rules on the rest of the world,” he said.
It is deplorable, Stepanov said, “to hear when representatives of Western governments, including Canada, are trying to state what is currently going on in the sphere of European security or in Ukraine as a kind of struggle between forces of darkness and light, “or good and evil, and putting labels on sovereign states or their leaders, kind of the name of their authoritarian or dictatorship or so on. That’s not how intergovernmental relations are built and that’s not how you do diplomacy.”
But Canada, the US and other allies point to Russia’s past actions as proof that it can not be trusted.
Putin has suppressed political opposition, shut down independent media, poisoned or captured his critics, invaded Georgia, invaded Ukraine in 2014 and occupied Crimea, and continues to maintain troops and ammunition in Moldova against the will of his people.
US Secretary of State Antony Blinken said in a Berlin speech last week that Russia “has an extensive playbook of aggression in addition to military action, including cyberattacks, paramilitary tactics and other ways to aggressively advance their interests without openly military to take action. “
Blinken said Moscow “orchestrated the war in eastern Ukraine with its proxies, trains, supplies and finances … it killed more than 14,000 Ukrainians.” It interfered in Ukraine’s politics and elections, blocked energy and trade “to intimidate Ukraine’s leaders and pressure its citizens, used propaganda and disinformation to sow distrust, launched cyber attacks on the country’s critical infrastructure.”
US President Joe Biden said last week that even Putin’s “people” do not know what he will do next.
When asked about this, Stepanov laughs again.
“I always laugh when I read pieces in the media, which virtually create an image of Russia, or Russian government, as you know, megalomaniacs who are obsessed with the kind of idea of making Russia a global dominant power. It does not work like that.”
Mike Day, a retired lieutenant general of the Canadian Armed Forces, said in an interview that it was a mistake for Western governments to portray Putin and Russia as irrational.
“I think he is regarded by the West as unpredictable. But he is not fickle, “Day said in an interview.
Yet Day said Canada had calibrated its response in a “nuanced” way that used its expertise, personnel and history in Ukraine in a way that would be useful to Ukraine’s forces, saying the government “had the needle pretty well. rigged. ” He applauded the cyber defense support that Canada will provide and said it would be especially helpful.
And Day, a former special forces commander overseeing the development of the Department of Defense’s space and cyber programs, dismissed critics among conservatives and many in the Ukrainian-Canadian diaspora who wanted Ottawa to kill lethal weapons immediately. must send as other allies have. He said there was nothing “unique we could provide” given the fighting power provided by the Americans and noted that the government had not ruled it out at a later stage, allowing Canada to escalate its response if there was an invasion. .
Defense Minister Anita Anand said this week that the situation was evolving and the government was still considering Ukraine’s request for deadly weapons.
Anand spokesman Daniel Minden said on Thursday she would meet with Ukraine’s defense minister Oleksii Reznikov “to discuss a range of ways in which Canada can continue to support Ukraine.”
Canada, the US and NATO allies fear Putin is on the verge of an invasion because he has drawn at least 100,000 Russian troops near Ukraine’s northern, eastern and southern borders in the past two months. He demanded that NATO deny Ukraine membership in the alliance, remove strategic weapons and halt NATO troop rotations in Eastern European countries such as Poland, Romania or the Baltic states, regions that Moscow considers part of its sphere of influence.
The US says it is a “non-start” and formally offered this week to negotiate ways to ensure more transparency around military activities in an effort to end the stalemate diplomatically.
Stepanov said he saw the document the US sent to Moscow on Wednesday, and the Russian government will respond within the next few days.
“We understand that there are some positive counter-proposals. But they are of secondary importance. And really, that commitment to the non-expansion of NATO is not there. “
He said the Russian concern was that “NATO officially declares that it is a nuclear alliance, NATO is the most powerful military alliance in the world. And when that nuclear alliance comes to our borders and officially declares in all doctrinal official documents of recent years that Russia is an adversary, we see it as unfriendly behavior.
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