In Ukraine and the Middle East, Canada is not an “honest broker”

Last Monday’s blog post looked at destabilizing and human-rights-undermining Canadian military exports to Saudi Arabia. Today we focus on a similar problem in Ukraine compounded by our continued lack of constructive engagement in the Minsk peace process.

Our second area of focus, also with a Russian angle, will be the stark contrast between Canada’s response to Russia’s illegal annexation of Crimea on the one hand and the announcement by Israel of its intention to proceed with an equally illegal annexation of the West Bank, on the other.

Ukraine, Canadian weapons and the Minsk Peace Process

Canadian weapons and military aid are flowing to far-right paramilitary units and ultranationalist factions in Ukraine.

So begins an excellent, in-depth article by Lital Khaikin in on the Harperesque role that Canada continues to play in Ukraine. It sheds welcome light on a subject, the coverage of which in Canadian media has, to date, largely been dominated by an ultra-nationalist — as in far-right — perspective, without any actual identification of it, as such. (Two notable exceptions are ongoing efforts by journalists Scott Taylor and David Pugliese to call out Canadian weapons supplies fueling the Donbass conflict and other disturbing Canadian interactions with far-right paramilitary extremists in Ukraine.)

Lital Khaikin writes:

Canada’s policy of providing Ukraine military aid has been disproportionately shaped by both Ukrainian far-right nationalism and the domestic right-wing lobby in Canada…. [this] has come at the expense of addressing the Donbass region’s complex underlying discontent, and at the cost of normalizing ultranationalist right-wing factions within the country.

Operation UNIFIER, the military mission providing training and weapons to the Ukrainian military, was initiated by then Prime Minister Harper in 2015 but has twice been extended by the Justin Trudeau government (during the tenure of Chrystia Freeland as Foreign Minister), the latest extension being set to run until March 2022.

Made possible through revisions to Canadian export control regulations, the provision of Canadian-made sniper rifles to the Ukrainian military began in 2019, despite extensively documented human rights abuses by extremist elements integrated into the Ukrainian military and action by the American Congress in 2018 to ban all military aid to the most notorious of these militias.

The Minsk Peace Process

Two Minsk agreements were signed between Russia, Ukraine and the Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe (OSCE) in September 2014 calling for a ceasefire and withdrawal of heavy weapons from eastern Ukraine and for a form of semi-autonomous governance for Donbass.

As we reported in our July 2019 blog post, the election of Volodymyr Zelensky to the Ukrainian presidency gave fresh impetus to the stalled peace process. Unfortunately, his election was not a catalyst for new thinking by Canada’s then Foreign Minister Chrystia Freeland (and now Deputy PM), who avoided any public mention of these agreements during Zelensky’s visit to Canada following his inauguration, let alone a constructive Canadian role in moving the talks forward.

Khaikin quotes seasoned Ukraine analyst Andrew Rasiulis on Canada’s approach to date:

we have … aligned ourselves with the nationalist sector of Ukrainian politics…. the nationalists’ influence on Canada—and Freeland particularly in her role as Deputy Prime Minister—still restrains Canadian diplomacy from going so far as to actually work toward a solution.

Khaikin is far less diplomatic in her assessment of Canada’s role, which she sees as one of domestic political and economic opportunism replacing any notion of principled peacebuilding:

Since 2014 … Canada’s focus on military aid and arms deals with Ukraine has done more to foment hostilities and lend legitimacy to ultranationalist subversion in the Donbass.

For the full article see: The Right-Wing Checkpoint for Canada’s Intervention in Ukraine (Lital Khaikin,, 21 May 2020).

More on Minsk Peace Process

On 19 May 2020 it was announced that the Head of the Office of the President of Ukraine Andriy Yermak and Foreign Minister Dmytro Kuleba are planning to visit Berlin on June 2 to conduct consultations on the Donbass settlement within the Normandy Four (Germany, Russia, Ukraine and France) and the Trilateral Contact Group of Ukraine, Russia and OSCE.

Andrew Rasiulis (in a 22 May email exchange with RI President Peggy Mason) gave this assessment:

My sense is that by making a personal visit to Berlin despite the restrictions of COVID 19, Yermak (who is lead on the negotiation file with Kuleba in support) is very serious in moving the Minsk format negotiations forward.

In Rasiulis’s view, the negotiations will move forward in the short term on tactical human benefits stuff such as further prisoner swaps, strengthening ceasefire commitments and opening up some checkpoints to facilitate movements of civilians between the sectors in the Donbass.

These tactical steps might then be reinforced in the mid-term by addressing the more strategic political aspects of the Donbass settlement, such as the status of the Russian language and some form of federated status, as well as where Ukraine stands between West and East.

He concludes:

These strategic points of negotiation are an anathema to the Ukrainian nationalist spectrum which regard any such negotiation with Russia as a sell-out.

Whither Canada?

Rasiulis and other Canadian experts have pointed to Canada’s potential to play a more active role in the OSCE on issues like Russian minority language rights and federalism to facilitate the integration of Donbass into a culturally heterogenous Ukraine.

We call on Foreign Minister Champagne to bring Canadian policy on Ukraine back into line with the UN Charter imperative of diplomatic peacemaking and our professed dedication to multilateralism by identifying and pursuing concrete steps in support of the Minsk peace process.


Canada and the Israeli plan to illegally annex the West Bank

Israel’s new coalition government has announced that it will address the annexation of significant parts of the West Bank (part of the occupied Palestinian territories) over the next six months.

Two particularly good articles in the Canadian media on Canada’s reaction to this extremely disturbing development were headlined thusly:

Michael Lynk is Associate Professor of Law at Western University. He was appointed by the United Nations Human Rights Council in March 2016 as the Special Rapporteur for human rights in the Occupied Palestinian Territory.

His article recounts the array of countries, including Canada’s Security Council competitors Ireland and Norway, and the many institutions that strongly condemned the annexation plan. Of Canada, he writes:

No public statements against Israel’s annexation proposal have been issued. No planned accountability measures have been floated. No criticism, however mild, has been offered.

He does draw attention, however, to a recent statement by Foreign Minister Champagne on another illegal annexation:

In mid-March…[Champagne] marked the sixth anniversary of the Russian annexation of Crimea by saying that: “Canada unequivocally condemns this violation of Ukraine’s sovereignty and territorial integrity and of international law.”

As the article forcefully reminds us, the unilateral annexation of territory is strictly prohibited in international law and is the centrepiece of the 1945 Charter of the United Nations:

Indeed, this prohibition has acquired the status of a jus cogens norm in international law, meaning that it is accepted as a fundamental principle of law by the international community and no exceptions are permitted.

Lynk also reminds us of the punishing economic and political counter-measures taken as the result of Russia’s annexation of Ukraine in 2014:

Russia was expelled from the G8, import and export bans were imposed for goods manufactured in Crimea, an array of economic sanctions and restrictions were enforced and targeted individuals faced travel bans and asset freezes.

Perhaps most tellingly in current circumstances, Lynk reminds us of the role that the Harper government’s “supine embrace of Israel” played in Canada’s failed Security Council bid in 2010.

For the full article click: Canada missing in action on Israel’s proposed annexation of the West Bank (Michael Lynk,, 19 May 2020)

CBC journalist Evan Dyer provides further detail on Canada’s silence from the “read-outs” of Prime Minister Justin Trudeau’s telephone conversations last week with the Israeli “alternate Prime Ministers”, Benjamin Netanyahu and Benny Gantz:

The words “annexation,” “West Bank” and “occupied territories” do not appear anywhere in the readouts.

Evan Dyer concludes that, despite a Global Affairs spokesperson expressing Canada’s “deep concern” over “unilateral” annexation, the read-outs make it quite clear that Canada’s priority is deepening ties with Israel.

Opposition Parties Oppose Annexation

No Canadian political party appears to support annexation, and the NDP and Green Parties have made statements urging Canada to speak out and condemn such a clear violation of international law. The Greens called for Canada to apply the same principles to “any notion of an Israeli annexation of Occupied Palestinian Territories” as it did with the Russian occupation and annexation of Crimea.

Further, the Greens want to see concrete action by Canada:

We call on you [Prime Minister] to bring this matter up with the utmost urgency with Canada’s international partners, and to apply pressure on Israel to back down from this dangerous plan.

For the full article click: Critics say Canada’s silence speaks volumes as Israel races towards annexation (Evan Dyer,, 21 May 2020).

Whither Canada?

We call on Canada to work with international partners to dissuade Israel from its illegal annexation plans.

 Photo credit: European Union

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