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"Diplomat & International Canada": Repairing Canada-Russia relations

17 Apr 2017 1:39 PM | Anonymous

From "Diplomat & International Canada"  by Paul Robinson |  April 11, 2017 

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Dealing with the Trump administration will no doubt be the top priority of Chrystia Freeland, Canada’s newly minted foreign minister, but it was the question of her attitude towards the Russian Federation that generated the most headlines when she took the job in January.
Those hoping that Canadian-Russian relations might improve under the current government reacted very negatively. Her nomination was a “catastrophe,” professor Michael Carley of the Université de Montréal told Sputnik News. Similarly, Piotr Diutkiewicz, Carleton University’s distinguished professor of Russian studies, told the CBC that dialogue with Russia under Freeland’s leadership was hard to imagine. “I believe it will be a period of frozen relations on both sides … Ms. Freeland is heavily anti-Russian biased,” he said.
During Stephen Harper’s final term in office, the Canadian government pursued a policy of cold-shouldering Russia. On the rare occasions when Canadian officials found themselves in the same room as their Russian counterparts, they used the opportunity to deliver lectures. Not surprisingly, constructive dialogue about matters of mutual interest proved to be impossible.
The Liberals’ victory in 2015 brought hope that things would change. To some extent, this did indeed happen, as foreign minister Stéphane Dion carried through with a promise to engage with Russia. Mark Gwozdecky, Global Affairs Canada’s assistant deputy minister for international security and political affairs, visited Moscow in November last year and met Russian deputy foreign minister Sergei Ryabkov. Junior diplomats and military officers have been spotted at functions at the Russian embassy in Ottawa; and Global Affairs and the Russian embassy co-sponsored a conference at Carleton University on the subject of Canada-Russia; Dialogue and Co-operation in the Arctic.

In an interview for this article, Kirill Kalinin, spokesman for the Russian Embassy, said that prior to the 2015 general election, Russian diplomats “did not have contact with our colleagues in the Department of Foreign Affairs.” Now, however, “professional contacts have resumed” and “people have started to discuss issues.” This constitutes a “big improvement,” Kalinin said.

However, the choice of Freeland as foreign minister has sparked fears that the brief détente might come to an end. Freeland is a long-standing critic of Russian President Vladimir Putin, and has often called for even stronger measures to be taken by western states against Russia. Before the 2015 election, for instance, she criticized the Harper government for being too soft and demanded that Russia be excluded from the SWIFT international banking system.
Despite this, it appears for now that Freeland is unlikely to halt the Canadian government’s policy of incremental, “controlled engagement.” In a statement for this article, Michael O’Shaughnessy, a spokesman for Global Affairs Canada, said, “Canada believes in the importance of engagement, dialogue and diplomacy; including with countries where we have profound disagreements.” According to O’Shaughnessy, Canada will continue to condemn Russia for its actions in Ukraine and will work with allies to maintain sanctions and economic pressure on Russia. But it will also “continue to engage with Russia for the purpose of advancing Canadian interests and expressing Canadian values on issues such as the Arctic and international security.”...

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