Last week, National President of the Ukrainian Canadian Congress Paul Grod participated in the conference on Ukraine’s economy hosted by the Washington, DC based think tank Atlantic Council. While in Washington, Mr. Grod met with representatives of the U.S. Congress and Senate, U.S. State Department, Ukraine’s Ambassador to the U.S., and with senior diplomats at the Canadian embassy in Washington. The New Pathway spoke with Paul Grod on his impression about the development of the global support for Ukraine, especially in the light of the potentially changing US policies towards Ukraine.
New Pathway: How is the global support for Ukraine developing?
Paul Grod: The European Union’s decision last week to continue sanctions against Russia into the middle of next year is a good sign. I think the international support of Ukraine is continuing. The global community is upset with Russia over its support of the Assad regime, and it helped Ukraine in that way. However, we can never take this support for Ukraine for granted and we need to keep the pressure on. There are some troubling signs ahead of potential weakening of that resolve against Putin and we’ve heard about some of the Trump’s administration candidates possible pro-Russian, anti-sanctions attitudes. It’s still too early to tell what their stance will be, and whether Ukraine will be left alone to figure it out with the aggressor. We will be very much focussed on helping to educate the new administration on the situation in Ukraine.
The risks stem from Ukraine’s ability to tackle corruption. It’s Putin’s policy to turn the international community against Ukraine and demonstrate that Ukraine is a failed state that is too corrupt to even govern itself. We can’t allow the global community to get disenchanted with Ukraine. So, it’s a very fine balancing act of ensuring that we keep pressure on Ukraine to institute reforms and deal with corruption, but, at the same time, not be overly aggressive so that we turn away the international support for Ukraine. We see some success stories from pro-reform ministers such as Ukrainian American Minister of Health Ulana Suprun, and Ukrainian Canadian Danylo Bilak who has been appointed Chief Investment Advisor to the Prime Minister of Ukraine and Director of the Ukraine Investment Promotion Office by the Cabinet of Ministers of Ukraine. We are cautiously optimistic.
One of the challenges we are seeing for Ukraine today, is populism: there are a number of politicians that are not helping the situation with their various political projects. We even see a number of politicians from Ukraine that are coming to Canada, US and other countries with what seems to be a sole purpose to undermine the existing government – and that is very troubling. We, as a community, have to be sophisticated enough not to engage and play in internal Ukrainian politics but to encourage international support for Ukraine. The politicians come here and say that nothing is happening in Ukraine, there is no reforms, that the West needs to put pressure on Poroshenko to continue to deal with corruption. Some of these politicians are looking to the West to support their calls for early parliamentary and presidential elections. This will only create political instability, making reforms impossible to implement, and jeopardize Ukraine’s path to economic recovery.
I am troubled with the efforts by some Ukrainian politicians, NGOs and media to undermine and weaken international support for the current leadership of Ukraine. They either do not understand the consequences – or perhaps more troubling they do. With the uncertainty of international support for Ukraine, Ukrainians need to be more united than ever before. This includes the 20 million strong Ukrainian diaspora who need to work together to build international support and to find concrete ways to help rebuild Ukraine. Ukraine doesn’t need arm-chair critics, it needs people who will make a difference.
When speaking with Canadian politicians about supporting Ukraine, we often hear the question, “Why is their government not conducting reforms and battling corruption?”. Their source for that information are those politicians and NGOs that are coming from Ukraine and undermining Ukraine for their own political gain. They are building their own political reputation by showing the electorate in Ukraine that they went to Ottawa, Washington, Brussels and they’ve talked to all the politicians, and all the politicians listened to them, and that’s why they should be the next leader of Ukraine. That’s why we at the Ukrainian Canadian Congress, for example, do not sponsor or organise trips for Ukrainian politicians to come to Canada.
New Pathway: In your recent column in the Hill Times, you talked about stiffening of the sanctions against Russia, while now, after the Russian involvement in the atrocities in Syria, the West is not imposing sanctions. What are the prospects of stiffer sanctions against Russia because the current sanctions are not producing the result?
Paul Grod: I think we cannot underestimate the effect of the sanctions on the Russian economy, they have also been very embarrassing for Russia. No question that sanctions need to be stiffened. In the recent weeks, Canada, the EU and the US actually did increase sanctions, they put close to 20 additional people on the sanctions list. It’s a positive sign – rather than weakening, they are increasing the sanctions. They could of course do more, which we continue to advocate for, and we monitor business dealings by Canadian companies with Russia.
But, apart from sanctions, I also argued in that article for a stronger deterrence policy, of the kind that the West had with respect to the Soviet Union, for very clear outcomes and penalties for actions in Crimea, Donbas and Syria. And there needs to be a leadership on the international front, whether from Germany, the US or Canada. We continue to emphasise that in this uncertain time with the political problems around the world – whether in Europe, within Great Britain, challenges in the United States – that Canada can play an important leadership role in supporting Ukraine. That includes increasing military support for Ukraine. Over the next few weeks we at Ukrainian Canadian Congress are calling on the Canadian government to ensure that they renew and enhance their current military mission in Ukraine. There are 200 Canadian soldiers training the Ukrainian army on various levels, including tactical, demining, logistics, among other things. This mission called Operation UNIFIER is scheduled to end in March 2017 – only a few months away. Renewing and enhancing of that mission would send a clear sign to Russia that Canada and the international community stand behind Ukraine. Another key area of Canadian assistance to Ukraine, which is currently under review, is technical assistance funding for Ukraine. Currently Ukraine is designated as a “country of focus” and therefore is a major recipient of international technical assistance from Canada. Ukraine over the last three years has been receiving about $50M annually in technical assistance with various reform projects and humanitarian assistance. There is a very serious risk that Canada may not continue with assistance for Ukraine at the same level so we need to make sure that our elected officials hear from our community on both the military and technical assistance issues that we expect them to continue at the same – if not increased – levels.
New Pathway: Do you expect Canada to become a Ukrainian advocate with the new US administration?
Paul Grod: Yes, that was the case that I made at the Canadian embassy in Washington and that is the case we have made to Minister Dion and Prime Minister Trudeau – that Canada needs to be the key advocate for Ukraine on the international stage because of its special relationship with Ukraine historically and currently. Canada’s principled leadership on Ukraine has demonstrated strong results. In that regard we have proposed that Canada become a participant in the “Minsk Peace Talks” – in the Normandy-format dialogue, along Germany and France. Canada is a very important international partner and has fewer conflicts of interest than Germany or France when it comes to Russia. So, Canada can be very important in Normandy talks, which haven’t been successful and, frankly, have failed.
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