By Bhupinder S. Liddar, former Canadian diplomat and founding publisher/editor of “Diplomat & International Canada” magazine.
Why is it that Ukraine, after 25 years of re-emergence as an independent country, from the ruins of the Soviet empire, cannot put its house in order and stand on its own feet? Why does a country of 46 million and largest in Europe, continues to rely, almost exclusively, on Western economic handouts and goodwill?
To add to the litany of money wasted and unaccounted for, Canada’s Foreign Affairs Minister Stephane Dion, a few days ago, announced, yet another $8.1 million in new funding to support the National Police of Ukraine.
If there is any doubt about domestic politics influencing Canadian foreign policy, it is worth noting that the announcement was made in Regina, to celebrate the 75th anniversary of the Ukrainian Canadian Congress, 125th anniversary of Ukrainian immigration to Canada and on 25th anniversary of Ukraine’s independence.
Canada has committed over $700 million in technical and financial assistance to support Ukraine’s “efforts to restore stability, improve security and implement democratic and reform,” according to Canada’s Global Affairs Department. Unfortunately, neither security or stability has been restored, or economic opportunities improved, nor democracy strengthened.
Since Ukraine’s independence in 1991, Canada has provided over $493 million in development assistance to the country. Between 2003 and 2012, Canada provided Ukraine over $57.5 million for nuclear and radiological safety and security, and over $20 million to help redirect the work of former weapons scientists towards peaceful pursuits.
Canada enjoys excellent relations with Ukraine, a country that is considered the breadbasket of the region, and one of the largest grain exporters. However, between independence in 1991 and 1999, it lost 60 per cent of its GDP, as the economy turned “sour” – euphemism for corruption, among both politicians and business persons.
Relations between Canada and Ukraine need not, and ought not to be, judged purely on financial exchanges and benefits, because bilateral relations are based on more dollars and cents. Relations between Canada and Ukraine are deep-rooted, ever since the first immigrants settled here in 1891. Ramon Hnatyshyn, Canada’s first Ukrainian origin Governor General visited Ukraine, in 1992, a year after its independence. It was an emotional state visit laced with much hope and promise for newly-independent Ukraine and Canada was willing to do all it could to showcase Ukraine as a post-Communist success story. Unfortunately, billions have been poured in a one-way direction, with no, or hardly any results to show. Political wrangling, mismanagement and corruption have taken a toll on the success of this promising country.
So why does Canada continues to go down this slippery road and continue to funnel money to Ukraine? First, it is the domestic consideration, as there are about 1.25 million Canadian of Ukrainian origin, and their votes sure do count. Secondly, legitimate and genuine concerns about Russia’s territorial expansionist designs. In 2014, Russia annexed Crimea and controls Donbass, both part of Ukraine one time. And, thirdly, the financial giveaways also fit into western alliances strategy, such as NATO and European Union, to counter and contain Russia.
In helping beef up defence against any future Russian incursions, 200 Canadian Armed Forces personnel are deployed in Ukraine to deliver training and capacity-building programs until March 2017. PM Trudeau told NATO Summit in Warsaw in July that Canada will station 450 troops in Latvia – a welcome, tangible and practical signal to Russia.
Former Prime Minister Stephen Harper, who was very adamant about demanding accountability, travelled to Ukraine four times between 2013 and 2015. He even invited Ukrainian President Poroshenko to Ottawa in September 2014, just a month before the federal election, and delivered an addressed to the Parliament. It seems Harper’s often recited mantra on accountability was absent, when it came to confronting Ukraine.
During a visit to Ukraine, in July of this year, Prime Minister Justin Trudeau’s Ukrainian-origin International Trade Minister, Chrystia Freeland, signed a free trade deal with her Ukrainian counterpart, in the presence of Ukrainian President Petro Poroshenko. Perhaps, here is an opening for Canada to engage Ukraine in a meaningful and economically mutually beneficial relationship.
Canada’s national newspaper Globe and Mail’s July 13 editorial rightly calls on Canada “to exert a benign influence on Ukraine, as an ally, a model and a helpful critic. For example, many Ukrainian business people and politicians continue to be indulgent towards corruption in their commercial life.”
Bhupinder S. Liddar, is a former Canadian diplomat and founding publisher/editor of “Diplomat & International Canada” magazine. He can be reached at email@example.com or visit www.liddar.ca