OTTAWA – During his first-ever visit to Canada, Ukrainian Prime Minister Volodymyr Groysman remarked, in an exaggerated way at the Ukrainian Day on Parliament Hill reception organized by the Canada-Ukraine Parliamentary Program, that “every day in Canadian history” has had a Ukrainian element in it.
But that comment made on October 31 somewhat rang true – at least during and shortly after Ukraine’s youngest-ever prime minister, age 39, was here primarily to promote his country as a great Canadian opportunity for trade and investment.
Speaking in Ukrainian through a translator, Mr. Groysman told a rare joint sitting of members of the House of Commons standing committees on international trade, foreign affairs and international development, and national defense on October 31 that Ukraine is undergoing many structural changes simultaneously and that continuing on the road of reform will spur dynamic development of Ukraine’s economy. The prime minister also expressed thanks to Canada for its support of those reforms.
Also on October 31, Mr. Groysman had a meeting with Prime Minister Justin Trudeau, during which the topics of discussion included the war in the Donbas, visa-free travel for Ukrainians, expanding the free trade agreement between the two counties, reforms in Ukraine’s civil service and law enforcement system, and attaining energy sustainability.
Pointing to the “deep friendship between Canada and Ukraine,” Mr. Trudeau expressed his government’s intention to “build on the growing economic ties between our countries.” The coming into force of the Canada-Ukraine Free Trade Agreement in August, he said, is “an opportunity to create even greater opportunities for our citizens to grow the economies and to deepen the friendship we have with Ukraine.”
He underlined during his meeting with Mr. Groysman: “Canada will always stand with Ukraine, whether it’s against illegitimate, illegal Russian actions or in other world spheres.”
Writing afterwards on Facebook, the Ukrainian prime minister said, “Geographically, we are far apart, separated by an ocean, but we constantly feel your strong support. Thank you, Canada.”
He also noted: “We are also hopeful for the proposed joint projects in aerospace, energy, IT and agribusiness. Canada’s innovations coupled with our capabilities and our enthusiasm to attract the best technologies to the country will be mutually beneficial for Canada and Ukraine.”
Speaking before House of Commons committee members, Mr. Groysman noted that one of his government’s priorities is to lift a ban on agricultural land sales that has been in place since Ukraine declared its independence 26 years ago. Foreigners will be excluded from buying Ukrainian farmland, which will be available for purchase only by Ukrainians to “boost the development” of the country’s farms, the prime minister said in response to a question from James Bezan, a Ukrainian Canadian Conservative member of Parliament who serves as vice-chair of the House Defense Committee.
Mr. Bezan also asked the prime minister about Ukraine’s anti-corruption initiatives in light of recent protests in Kyiv by thousands of people calling for the resignation of Mr. Groysman’s government for failing to tackle the country’s culture of corruption.
Mr. Groysman emphasized to the special House committee session that Ukraine is investigating cases through its National Anti-Corruption Bureau, which as of September 30 had 410 investigations under way and 92 cases in court.
The prime minister added that there is a new initiative, led by President Poroshenko, to soon introduce legislation creating an anti-corruption court, which addresses one of the protesters’ demands.
During his visit to Canada in September, the Ukrainian president had told CBC News there was no need to establish a special court since all judicial bodies “should be anti-corruption.”
Prime Minister Groysman told Canadian parliamentarians that Ukraine last year launched a transparent public-procurement process through which Canadian companies can bid for contracts under the Canada-Ukraine Free Trade Agreement that took effect on August 1.
“Previously it was a very corrupt and closed system,” he noted.
Mr. Groysman’s primary reason for visiting Canada was to drum up business for Ukraine in the new CUFTA era.
The Ukrainian prime minister visited Toronto, where he addressed the Ukrainian-Canadian Business Forum on October 30, and spoke of partnership opportunities in Ukraine “from land to space” that range from gas extraction to aircraft manufacturing.
“We have 3,500 enterprises which today are state-owned but are in the process of privatization so they can find new owners, new technologies and new horizons for development,” said Mr. Groysman. While in Toronto, he joined Ontario Liberal Premier Kathleen Wynne in announcing Ukraine International Airlines’ new direct flight between Kyiv and Toronto (a first for Canada) which is set to launch next summer.
The Ukrainian prime minister also traveled to Montreal following his meeting with Prime Minister Trudeau to seek investment from Canadian aerospace companies in Ukraine’s airplane industry. This past summer, Ukraine’s Ambassador to Canada Andriy Shevchenko had told The Ukrainian Weekly that two turboprop engines, made by Pratt & Whitney Canada, which is headquartered near Montreal, will power a new version of Ukraine’s military transport aircraft, the Antonov An-32, that is being jointly developed by Ukraine and Saudi Arabia.
Mr. Groysman had already left Canada when the Trudeau government announced on November 3 the first set of sanctions under the country’s newly enacted Magnitsky law against 52 officials from Russia, Venezuela and South Sudan. Thirty of the individuals listed are Russians “linked to acts of significant corruption surrounding the U.S. $230 million tax fraud uncovered by Sergei Magnitsky in 2008 and to the subsequent gross violations of his legal and human rights during his investigation and pretrial detention, including psychological and physical abuse that ultimately led to his death in a Russian detention centre in November 2009,” according to Global Affairs Canada, the department headed by Foreign Affairs Minister Chrystia Freeland.
The group of 30 Russians includes tax and prison officials, as well as banker Dmitry Vladislavovich Klyuev, who is accused of helping to launder some of the proceeds of the fraud, some of which may have ended up in Canada.
Under the Magnitsky law, officially called the Justice for Victims of Corrupt Foreign Officials Act (Sergei Magnitsky Law), that targets individuals the Canadian government has determined are “responsible for, or complicit in, gross violations of internationally recognized human rights or acts of significant corruption,” the 52 people named will be denied entry into Canada and any assets they hold here are now frozen.
Mr. Magnitsky’s widow, Natalia, and his 16-year-old son, Nikita, were in Ottawa on November 1, along with Bill Browder, the Chicago-born, London-based financier who hired Sergei Magnitsky as the lawyer and accountant for his former Moscow-based Hermitage Capital Management hedge fund in 2005. Mr. Browder actively lobbied the Canadian Parliament to pass Bill S-226, the Magnitsky law. The Magnitskys and Mr. Browder were here to thank Canada for becoming the fourth country, after the United States, Estonia and the United Kingdom, to enact Magnitsky-style legislation. However, they did not cross paths with Mr. Groysman, who with his wife, Olena, earlier in the day had met with Canada’s new governor general, former astronaut Julie Payette.
Conservative MP Bezan, who successfully sponsored the Magnitsky law in the House of Commons, did meet the Ukrainian prime minister and said later that he was impressed with Mr. Groysman’s “analytical, articulate and intelligent” plans for his country’s economic reforms, particularly in Ukraine’s agricultural sector, which represents 17 percent of the country’s gross domestic product.
Mr. Groysman’s Canadian visit also coincided with the indictment of U.S. President Donald Trump’s former campaign manager Paul Manafort and Mr. Manafort’s associate Rick Gates, who were indicted on October 30 on 12 criminal counts, including failure to register as foreign agents when they lobbied on behalf of former Ukrainian President Viktor Yanukovych and the laundering of millions of dollars through offshore shell companies.
In an exclusive interview with CBC News following his meeting with Prime Minister Trudeau, the Ukrainian prime minister said his government had not received “any requests for information” from U.S. special counsel Robert Mueller’s office. “But if we receive a request we will, of course, provide the information we have,” Prime Minister Groysman said.