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Canada’s opposition Conservatives support U.N. peacekeeping mission in Ukraine

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Opposition Leader Andrew Scheer (at podium) with Member of Parliament James Bezan, both members of the Conservative Party of Canada.

Office of the Leader of the Official Opposition

Opposition Leader Andrew Scheer (at podium) with Member of Parliament James Bezan, both members of the Conservative Party of Canada.

OTTAWA – Canada’s Official Opposition Conservative Party has joined the Ukrainian Canadian Congress (UCC) in calling for a Canadian-led United Nations peacekeeping mission in eastern Ukraine.

“The defense of Ukraine’s sovereignty and territorial integrity should be a priority for Canada’s government on the international stage,” said Opposition Leader Andrew Scheer on November 9 when he announced that a Conservative-led Canadian government would call for such a mission that “would allow Ukraine to restore control over its eastern border with Russia” and ensure the Russian military stays out of Ukraine.

However, the Tories don’t hold power and the next Canadian general election won’t take place until October 21, 2019.

Mr. Scheer, the former speaker of the House of Commons, who was among 12 other Canadian lawmakers and officials banned from entering Russia in retaliation for Canadian sanctions imposed on Russia following its 2014 annexation of Crimea, acknowledged as much when he said that “now is the time to act,” signaling that Prime Minister Justin Trudeau’s Liberal government can count on Conservative support for a Canadian peacekeeping operation in Ukraine.

The UCC has already been pushing for such a mission.

Last month, Paul Grod, the congress’s president, appeared before the House of Commons Standing Committee on National Defense said that, “by spearheading a U.N. peacekeeping mission to Ukraine, Canada has the opportunity to take its rightful place and make a significant difference in returning the world to a rules-based international order.”

In a November 9 statement, Canadian Foreign Affairs Minister Chrystia Freeland, a Ukrainian Canadian, said that she had “personally explored the feasibility and prospects of such a mission” with Ukrainian President Petro Poroshenko and Prime Minister Volodymyr Groysman, both of whom recently visited Canada, as well as with U.S.  Secretary of State Rex Tillerson, Ambassador Kurt Volker – the U.S. special representative for Ukraine negotiations – and U.N. Secretary General António Guterres.

“Our government has been at the heart of international efforts to support Ukraine, and we are working hard to ensure any peacekeeping effort guarantees Ukraine’s sovereignty and territorial integrity,” said Minister Freeland.

Mr. Grod told members of the House committee that he hoped that at a U.N. peacekeeping conference Canada recently hosted in Vancouver, Prime Minister Trudeau’s Liberal government would announce that Canada would lead a mission to Ukraine, which President Poroshenko has requested since 2015.

That did not happen.

Instead, Mr. Trudeau unveiled a multi-pronged plan to provide helicopters, transport aircraft and a 200-member quick-reaction force for U.N. peace operations at the 2017 U.N. Peacekeeping Defense Ministerial on November 15. Canada will also send police officers to assist peacekeeping missions in Haiti and Colombia, and contribute $21 million (about $16 million U.S.) toward increasing the role of women in peacekeeping.

Last year, the Trudeau government pledged $450 million (about $353 million U.S.), 600 soldiers and 150 police officers over three years to support U.N. peace missions.

There was speculation that Canada could send peacekeepers to the U.N. mission in the west African nation of Mali.

But Conservative Member of Parliament James Bezan, a Ukrainian Canadian who serves as the Official Opposition shadow minister of national defense in the Commons, said in an interview that his party would not support Canada’s involvement in any peacekeeping mission in Africa – particularly to Mali, where more than 80 peacekeepers have been killed since the U.N. operation began there in 2013.

Last month, as reported by The Ukrainian Weekly, he had reservations about Canada becoming entangled “in an open gun fight” between Ukraine and Russia and embroiled in a mission with no end-date in sight if it hardens into a frozen conflict, which Mr. Bezan believes to be President Vladimir Putin’s goal of Russia’s eventual annexation of the Donbas.

But Mr. Bezan also believes the international community should reject Russia’s idea for a U.N. mission, which would restrict peacekeepers to the frontline and not the entire Ukrainian-Russian border along with the occupied Donetsk and Luhansk oblasts as Ukraine seeks.

Canada has the connection to Ukraine  – through an estimated 1.3 million-strong diaspora as well as ongoing support for Ukraine’s democratic and economic reforms – and could use that clout to influence other countries, such as the United States, to rally around a Canadian-led, Ukrainian-desired U.N. peacekeeping mission, Mr. Bezan argues.

As a permanent member of the U.N. Security Council, Russia could veto such an operation.

That is why “Canada and its Western allies must strengthen Ukraine’s hand through increased military support and put significant pressure on Russia by escalating sanctions until they accept the Ukrainian proposal for peacekeepers,” Mr. Grod wrote in a November 10 op-ed in The Hill Times, a weekly Ottawa-based newspaper that covers Parliament Hill and the Canadian government.

“Providing Ukraine with kinetic defensive weapons will enable Ukraine to better defend itself against daily artillery attacks and raise the cost of any further land-grab offensives by Russia,” the UCC president noted.

Canada has so far not supplied Ukraine with arms, as requested, nor has it placed Ukraine on the Automatic Firearms Country Control List, which would allow the beleaguered country to purchase lethal aid from Canadian weapons manufacturers. In late September, Canadian Defense Minister Harjit Sajjan said that Minister Freeland had signed off on adding Ukraine to the list and that it would happen soon.

Mr. Bezan said that, in fact, the Trudeau Liberals have introduced no significant new initiatives to assist Ukraine, and have either continued or canceled programs begun by the previous Conservative government under Prime Minister Stephen Harper. Operation UNIFIER, through which the Canadian military has trained about 5,000 Canadian soldiers since September 2015 (a month before the Liberals won the general election), has been extended until 2019. But last year the Trudeau government canceled the sharing of satellite images with Ukraine’s military, which the Harper government also began in 2015.

Mr. Grod has also expressed concern, to both The Weekly and the House’s National Defense Committee, that the Canadian government has not committed to extend funding for its annual $50 million (about $39 million U.S.) technical assistance program to Ukraine, which is set to expire in 2018-2019.

Yet the most significant red flag is Prime Minister Trudeau, according to Mr. Bezan.

He believes that while Ms. Freeland and Mr. Sajjan are in favor of a Canadian-led U.N. peacekeeping operation in eastern Ukraine, Mr. Trudeau is like Stéphane Dion, whom Ms. Freeland replaced as foreign affairs minister earlier this year, in “trying to appease Russia.”

He said the prime minister might view a peace mission as “costing him too much political capital” and risk Canada not getting a 2021-2022 seat on the U.N. Security Council, for which Mr. Trudeau has been actively lobbying.

Added Mr. Bezan: “At the end of the day, all we can do as Conservatives is to continue to advocate for Ukraine.”

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