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“There is no quid pro quo”

Canada refuses to drop sanctions against Russia, even if it means its new foreign affairs minister will be banned from travelling to Moscow

Canada won’t drop sanctions in a tit-for-tat trade with Russia

The Russian government has sent a clear message to Canada: If you want us to drop sanctions against your new foreign affairs minister, you must return the favor. Canada sent a clearer message in response: No.

In a statement to RIA-Novosti, a state-run broadcaster seen as a Kremlin mouthpiece, an unnamed source from the Russian Foreign Ministry said that dropping a travel ban against newly-appointed Foreign Affairs Minister Chrystia Freeland, in place since 2014, would be a matter of “reciprocity.”

“She has been under sanctions since 2014, it is no secret. She was included in the sanctions list as a response measure, as Canada introduced restrictions against Russia, including officials. The issue of her removal from the response sanctions list is a matter of reciprocity and ‘mirror’ response,” the source said, according to RIA’s English-language news site, Sputnik.

“We are ready to cooperate with Canada in all areas, to improve relations, to end sanctions wars. But it was not us who started them. The question should be addressed to Ottawa.”

In a statement to VICE News, a spokesperson for Freeland responded bluntly: “There is no quid pro quo for aggression and illegal action on their part.”

Canada’s sanctions on Moscow were in direct response to Russia’s annexation of Crimea, and further activities to destabilize eastern Ukraine.

As a part of that diplomatic condemnation, Canada added oil and gas giant Gazprom, the Bank of Moscow, and speaker off the Russian Parliament Vyaecheslav Volodin to its sanction list. In some cases, the sanctions were economic — in others, as is Volodin’s case, they were merely travel bans.

The Kremlin responded in kind, targetted an array of Canadian functionaries, especially outspoken Ukrainians like Freeland, to its own travel ban list. But none of those Canadian politicians were in cabinet at the time.

Now that Freeland is Canada’s chief diplomat, it raises the question as to how she’ll be able to deal with the Russian regime.

Under Freeland’s predecessor, who was shuffled out of cabinet on Tuesday, Canada’s firm condemnation of Russia certainly eased.

“Canada’s severing of ties with Russia had no positive consequences for anyone: not for Canadians, not for the Russian people, not for Ukraine, and not for global security,” former foreign affairs minister Stephane Dion said in March, 2016, in a speech intended to outline his policy of “responsible conviction.” He went on to say that sanctions against Russia “are effective only because they are being imposed by a large number of countries.”

While Dion did say that the sanctions must be kept, or even maintained, “Canada must stop being essentially the only one practising an empty chair policy with Russia, because by doing so, we are only punishing ourselves.”

As the incoming Trump administration seems intent on dropping its sanctions, the question remains whether Canada will keep up its pressure, or follow Washington’s path — as Dion suggested Ottawa may.

Freeland, after her swearing-in as minister, committed to working with the Russian government.

“I know Russia well,” Freeland told reporters on Tuesday. “I am a very strong supporter of our government’s view that it is important to engage with all countries around the world very much, including Russia and so I feel with my background in Russia I am going to be well positioned to be a member of our government’s engagement there.”

The Russian embassy released a statement upon Freeland’s appointment, reading that “We hope that the Canadian government will follow its stated intention to further re-engage with Russia in areas of common interest.”

But one Russian government source told VICE News that, given Freeland’s “ideological” position on Russia, they take her statements with suspicion. The source said that they expect Freeland will look to “create obstacles that will never be overcome” and to “lecture” the Putin government. Given that, they didn’t expect that the sanctions would be lifted.

“What good does it do to have a minister that is banned from travelling to one of the key international players, without whom no security issue can be solved?”


 

Cover: Photo by Sean Kilpatrick/The Canadian Press

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