If Moscow wants a thaw – then let it take the first steps

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Marco Levytsky, Editorial Writer.

On January 11, Robert Fife, Ottawa Bureau Chief for The Globe and Mail, reported that: “Two Canadian experts on Russia have penned an article in a prestigious Moscow journal that has strong connections to the Kremlin, calling for a thaw in relations between Canada and the Russian Federation.”

One may wonder why even bother reporting on an article that appeared in a Kremlin-linked publication. But that same article was further showcased by Ottawa’s Carleton University, which posted it as an open letter on its Centre for Governance and Public Management website, probably because one of the authors, Piotr Dutkiewicz is a co-director of the Centre and a former Director of the Institute of European and Russian Studies. He is originally from Poland and was educated at Warsaw University (LLM) while the country was under Communist rule, and also at the Russian Academy of Science, Moscow (Ph.D.) during the Soviet era. In May 2006 he received a doctorate Honoris Causa from the People’s Friendship University (Moscow) and in 2007 an Honorary Degree from the Russian Academy of Public Administration (Moscow) for his “very significant contribution to the development of Canada- Russia relations and quality of research”. He is also a member of the Valdai Club, a Moscow-based think-tank; in 2009 he received the Russian Federation’s Order of Friendship from then-President Dmitry Medvedev.

Both Dutkiewicz and his co-author Gilles Breton, a former diplomat, are directors of the Canada Eurasia Russia Business Association (CERBA) which promotes bilateral trade and investment between Canada and Eurasia. Therefore, they have a vested interest in removing Canada’s sanctions against the Russian Federation because they’re simply not good for business. So, it was with considerable justification that the Conservative Shadow Minister for Defense, James Bezan, labelled them as “Putin proxies” in his reaction to The Globe and Mail Story.

“I’m shocked these so-called experts want to thaw our relationship with Russia proving they are acting on (Russian President Vladimir) Putin’s behalf,” he wrote on his Twitter account, January 11.

“It’s appalling to think anyone wants to normalize relations when Russian forces illegally invade and occupy Ukrainian territory.

“These Putin proxies want Canada to ignore the fact the Kremlin was recently linked to the Solar Winds cyber attack in the USA and the attempted assassination of Russian opposition leader Alexey Navalny. The list goes on and on.

“Canada must never appease Putin nor normalize relations with Russia until they get out of Ukraine. I’m proud of our previous Conservative government’s strong record of holding Russia to account for violating international norms and the rule of law,” he concluded.
In his interview with Fife, Marcus Kolga, a human-rights advocate, and senior fellow at the Macdonald-Laurier Institute, said Russia-Canada trade relations are not strong to begin with. Russia was Canada’s 32nd biggest trading partner in terms of merchandise trade in 2019, right behind Singapore. “There is no reason why we should be exposing more Canadian companies to the kleptocratic nature of the Russian government,” Kolga said. “We have an adversary who is threatening our allies. An adversary who is killing critics and threatening critics abroad. It’s not in our national interests to start resetting relations,” he said.

Indeed, it is not. In its foreign policy, Canada has consistently supported human rights and opposed acts of aggression. Our current sanctions were imposed in 2014 because the Russian Federation violated international law by illegally annexing Crimea and invading the Donbas in support of its local proxies. As Global Affairs spokesperson Jason Kung told Fife, bilateral relations with Russia “remain challenging and dialogue has been limited due to Russia’s repeated disregard for international law and the rules-based international order.”
We are encouraged by the fact that the Government of Canada rejects Dutkiewicz and Breton’s Moscow-backed overtures. If the Russian Federation is interested in a “thaw” in our mutual relations, then – first of all – get out of Crimea and get out of the Donbas. Then we can begin a dialogue on all kinds of other issues – Russian aggression through proxies in the Middle East, in the Caucasus, in Moldova; the assassination of democratic critics on foreign soil; accepting responsibility for the Holodomor and other acts of genocide directed against many nations by Russian leaders in the past.

Of course, to do that would be to reverse over 800 years of history. Russia (formerly, Muscovy) has known only despotism since it first coalesced into a state from a number of disparate northern principalities, duchies and other vassal territories of the Mongol Empire. The few brief democratic experiments (the 1917 Provisional Government and the 1990s Yeltsin period) ended in failure and a return to despotism – be it under Lenin and Stalin, Khrushchev, Brezhnev and others, or now under Putin. Moscow only understands force. For Russian leaders throughout history diplomatic concepts such as “thaw”, “dialogue” and “engagement” serve only as masquerades to delude the “useful idiots” in democratic counties while they consolidate their own power. That is why the most recent proposal for a “thaw” is coming directly from Moscow.

As we mentioned earlier, if the Russian Federation wants a “thaw” in our relations – then let them take the first step – return all occupied Ukrainian lands to Ukraine. That is a minimum requirement and even so, highly unlikely under the current regime. But it would be a step in the right direction. So, let Moscow’s proxies talk all they want about some pie-in-the-sky “thaw”. But actions speak much louder than words and if the Russian leadership really wants a “thaw”, then let them show it.