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Open letter to Stéphane Dion: Reject Harper-era foreign policy towards Ukraine and Russia

In its foreign policy towards Ukraine and Russia, Canada must separate fact from fiction

Canadian PoliticsEurope

A large Ukrainian flag is waved across Maidan in November, 2013. Photo by Mstyslav Chernov.

Dear Minister Dion,

Thank you for your letter of June 30 that was in response to my letter to you of November 17, 2015.

When your government came into office last fall you inherited the Harper Conservative foreign policy towards Ukraine and Russia which was in lock-step with that of the United States. My purpose in writing to you was to alert your new government to the fact that there was considerable evidence that for a variety of reasons Harper’s and the US’s foreign policy positions were at variance with the reality of the situation.

Through reports largely on the internet and some in prestigious journals by academics, former government officials and independent journalists, I became aware of significantly different views from those presented by the mainstream media on the Ukraine-Russia issue. To provide you and the Prime Minister with additional valuable information, from these reports I had selected five articles by informed observers and sent them to you last fall along with my letter.

In my letter I had also pointed out that the mainstream media never revealed the fact that there were people in the US government who for many years had wanted to get Ukraine and Georgia into NATO, despite being warned against this by their own professional diplomats. As stated in the articles I had enclosed, it was the US attempt to get Ukraine into NATO (with the expenditure of more than five billion dollars) that eventually created the coup d’état in February 2014 that installed the new government in Kiev which included fascists and neo-Nazis. The mainstream media has been in total denial regarding this incontrovertible fact. Unfortunately, so have the governments of the US and Canada.

And what is it that you now relate to me in your letter? You make no mention of the articles I had forwarded to you—if you read them you have ignored the solidly documented information that provided the basis for a different foreign policy. Instead, to my dismay I see that you and your government have adopted Harper’s policies in their entirety and Canada’s policy towards Ukraine and Russia still remains in lock-step with the US.

Where are the days when Canada had independent policies and opposed the US on a wide range of fronts? For example, Vietnam, Cuba, Chile, Iraq … When Stephen Harper was in the opposition he berated Canada for not supporting the illegal war on Iraq, and said that we should be fighting “shoulder to shoulder with George Bush in this war.” Then he got into power and immediately volunteered to put Canada’s troops into the wretched Afghanistan quagmire where we were not to “turn tail and run” … until we eventually had to. Also, there was Harper in full support of the US’s vendetta against Iran and Syria … and in support of the US’s orchestrated coup d’état in Ukraine in 2014.

And now we have the Trudeau Liberal government following Harper’s exact policies in Ukraine. In your letter you state “… Canada was extremely disturbed by the erosion of democracy, the rule of law and human rights in Ukraine under the Yanukovych government. Canada strongly condemned the actions taken by that government.” This was a foreign policy position enacted by the Conservative Harper government which the Liberal government now obviously endorses. Although Yanukovych may have been corrupt, he was no more corrupt than all of Ukraine’s previous leaders since its independence in 1991. The important point is that Yanukovych had been legally elected in 2010, but on February 22 of 2014 he was deposed in a coup d’état, engineered by the US. This was confirmed by a variety of sources, including George Friedman, the Founder and CEO of Stratfor, the ‘Shadow CIA’ firm, who made the comment: “It really was the most blatant coup in history.” What irony! Here you decry the Yanukovych government that had been legally elected, but there is not a word from you about the coup d’état that replaced him! And the new illegal regime included fascists and neo-Nazis! Not a word about this. I can understand this coming from Harper, but from you … as the Minister of External Affairs for the “enlightened sunny ways” Trudeau government … this is most disturbing.

As for Crimea, some historical perspective is required. The very first action that was taken by the coup government under Yatsenyuk was a bill that made Ukrainian the only legal language in Ukraine, eliminating Russian as a legal regional language. Just imagine if a federal government in Canada suddenly passed a bill making English the only official language in Canada. In such a case, how long would it take to have Quebec hold a referendum to secede from Canada and to have an overwhelming vote to do so? That is exactly what happened in Crimea. That is why the referendum was held on short notice and why there was an 83 percent turnout and a 97 percent vote to secede from Ukraine and apply for membership in the Russian Federation. It was on this basis that Russia accepted Crimea back into the Russian Federation.

It is a false and propagandistic assertion that Russia “annexed” Crimea. Annexation implies a forceful military assault and takeover of an area, whereas the people of Crimea, in a peaceful overwhelming manner, showed that they wanted to leave Ukraine and voluntarily join Russia. Russia obliged by having them rejoin the country they had lived in for more than a couple of centuries.

Further on this historical matter, Crimea had been part of Russia since 1783 but was “gifted” to Ukraine illegally by Khrushchev in 1954. Also, shortly before the dissolution of the USSR, Crimea voted in a referendum on January 20, 1991 to rejoin the Russian Federation, by a vote of 94 percent (with an 80 percent turnout), but Ukraine refused to accept the vote, and Russia under Yeltsin was too distracted and too weak to object. So Crimea has had two almost identical referenda, with the final one being recognized. After Crimea’s 1991 referendum, Ukraine changed its constitution in manner that was designed to prevent Crimea from ever holding another referendum. According to Ukraine’s 1996 constitution (Clause 73) the issue of altering the territory of Ukraine must be resolved exclusively by an all-Ukrainian referendum. However, it can be argued that such a provision in a country’s constitution that restricts the right of a national group to hold a referendum of its own on the issue of self-determination is a violation of the UN Charter. General Assembly resolution 1514 (XV) of 14 December 1960 gives a distinct group of people, such as those in Quebec, Scotland or in Crimea, “the right to self-determination; by virtue of that right they freely determine their political status and freely pursue their economic, social and cultural development.”

In accordance with this UN provision, Quebec was able to hold two referenda on its own, without being subjected to try to do this by means of an all-Canada referendum or seeking Canada’s permission to hold a referendum. In this same manner, Scotland was able to have a referendum on the issue of its independence. The inclusion of Clause 73 in Ukraine’s revised constitution effectively blocks Crimea from having a referendum, and this is surely a violation of the UN Charter. For this legitimate reason and because Crimea refused to recognize the legality of Ukraine’s coup government, which by virtue of the coup had violated the country’s constitution, Crimea chose to ignore Ukraine’s arbitrary requirement and proceeded to hold a referendum on its future on March 16, 2014.

When the Crimean parliament announced its intention to hold a self-determination referendum, Ukraine’s Constitutional Court immediately ruled that such a referendum would contravene Ukraine’s constitution which allowed for only an all-Ukraine referendum, and hence on this basis Crimea’s referendum would be illegal. It is this matter that became a cause célèbre, with never a mention that Crimea had a right to its referendum by virtue of a provision in the UN Charter.

To put this matter in further perspective, in February 2008 the Albanian province of Kosovo declared its independence from Serbia—without even the pretence of a referendum! In response, this was greeted with warm approval by the United States. Afterwards, in 2010 the UN International Court’s Advisory Opinion concerning Kosovo indicated that “international law contains no prohibition on declarations of independence,” which was a clear-cut endorsement of Kosovo’s declaration, which had been done without a referendum. Despite this precedent setting situation, when Crimea held its well-monitored referendum, its declaration of independence was strongly condemned by the United States.

In view of this, to pretend that the US’s negative response to Crimea’s referendum is not politically motivated is to be naive in the extreme. Given this, it is highly problematic for Canada to support the US’s political agenda on Ukraine and Russia.

You cite the G-7 March 27, 2014 declaration condemning Russia’s action to readmit Crimea into their federation – but such a declaration was in effect a political decision to vilify Russia and it ignored the reality of what had actually happened. As I’ve already mentioned, contrary to the wording of the declaration, there had been no “Russian invasion” and there was no “coercion or force” and Crimea was not “annexed” into the Russian Federation. The facts speak for themselves, but reality was ignored because the US in particular was determined to vilify Russia and impose sanctions on the country. However, no matter how the issue is twisted, there is no question that Crimea’s referendum was conducted legally and none of the international observers detected any irregularities. Furthermore, every public opinion poll conducted in Crimea since then shows that more than 90 percent of the people approve of their decision to rejoin the Russian Federation. If democracy has any meaning whatsoever, how can anyone insist that “Crimea has to be returned to Ukraine”?

You are absolutely correct in saying that “… the Minsk peace process represents the only path to durable peace.” However, you make no mention of the fact that it is Ukraine that has failed to live up to all of the 13 clauses of Minsk-2. Ukraine continues its military attacks against Donetsk and Lugansk. It does not recognize the elected authorities of these two regions (as it had been required to do), and hence no progress has been made on a political settlement, including the required regional elections. Instead of dialogue and a joint agreement with the Donetsk and Lugansk regions, on March 17, 2015, Ukraine’s Rada unilaterally passed a corresponding resolution, contrary to the Minsk agreement, which Donetsk and Lugansk rightfully rejected. Also, Article 11 of Minsk-2 required Ukraine to adopt a new constitution “with entry into force by the end of 2015 of a new constitution, which shall incorporate decentralization as a key element…” Till this day, Ukraine has not complied with this or with any of the other key provisions.

It should be noted that although Russia, Germany and France supervised and helped to create the Minsk-2 Accord, the accord is between the Kiev government and the Donetsk and Lugansk regions, and it is they that are responsible for carrying out its provisions. However, in a bizarre fashion the EU and the US are constantly blaming Russia for somehow not “implementing the Minsk agreement” … ignoring the fact that Russia is not a participant or a party in this agreement, in exactly the way that Germany and France aren’t subject to it. In an action divorced from reality, on July 1, 2016, the EU extended economic sanctions against Russia because the Minsk Accord has still not been fully implemented—as if this had been Russia’s responsibility! Obviously, sheer ignorance and prejudice towards Russia, rather than factual analysis, rules the day.

In its foreign policy towards Ukraine and Russia, Canada must separate fact from fiction. Although you have noted the need for “dialogue” with Russia, so far nothing with respect to policy has changed.

John Ryan, Ph.D., is a retired professor of geography and a senior scholar at the University of Winnipeg.


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