Mikhail Molchanov OPINION
The right-wing Ukrainian-Canadian Congress (UCC) has been the driving force behind the Canadian government’s unwavering anti-Russia policy.
The elections of the Liberal government of Canada in October 2015 brought hopes for a change in the country’s foreign policy course, which took a rather extreme turn under the leadership of former Prime Minister Stephen Harper. As a result of Harper’s “conservative revolution,” Canada became the most pro-Israel country in the world, losing quite a few friends in the Arab world.
For a brief period, Canada also became the most anti-Communist country in the world, lambasting China’s human rights record and promising to not trade “Canadian values” for the “almighty dollar,” to the effect that Canadian-Chinese relations “hit rock bottom” before slowly coming back to normal in Harper’s second term in office.
The Harper government had arguably become also the most Russophobic government in the Western world, as the Prime Minister became a hostage to the right-wing Ukrainian-Canadian lobby hailing from his home province of Alberta. Russian-Canadian ties on the circumpolar questions in the Arctic stalled, trade and investment dwindled, and political dialogue was downgraded even before the 2014 events in Ukraine.
Canada had actively pushed for Ukraine’s membership in NATO and announced unilateral sanctions against Russia under the Special Economic Measures Act as a punishment, in terms of the official statement, for “Russia’s violation of the sovereignty and territorial integrity of Ukraine.” The net result of these policies was that Canada, in the words of Russia’s Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov, de facto followed the interests of the Ukrainian diaspora ignoring Canada’s national interests.
Indeed, on Jan. 26 Canada’s Minister of Foreign Affairs Stéphane Dion stated that there was a need to resume dialogue with Russia, in particular, over matters related to Ukraine. “Canada was speaking to the Russians even during the tough times of the Cold War. And now we are not speaking… because of the former policy, of the former government,” he said.The Liberal government of Prime Minister Justin Trudeau promised to restore Canadian leadership in the world, promote effective Canadian diplomacy, work with other countries constructively at the United Nations, and contribute more to the United Nations’ mediation, conflict prevention, and post-conflict reconstruction efforts. Presumably all of this dictates the necessity to re-engage with Russia in a respectful and constructive way.
“Somebody will have to explain to me in what way it is helping Ukraine that Canada has not engaged Russia about the Arctic. Canada and Russia are neighbours. If we don’t engage in Russia, we don’t help Ukraine (and) we don’t help Canada or Canada’s interests.”
That was a noble and prudent sentiment indeed. Unfortunately, not everyone applauded. The very next day, upon the prodding of the right-wing Ukrainian-Canadian Congress (UCC), long under Banderite leadership, Liberal MP of “Ukrainian lineage” Borys Wrzesnewskyj demanded that the government clarify its position on Ukraine and Russia.
The UCC received immediate reassurances from Minister Dion that the government “will not tolerate from a Russian minister any insult against the community of Ukrainians in Canada, Ukrainian Canadians. We owe so much to them. We will always support them.”
On Feb. 23, Andriy Parubiy, the co-creator of the neo-Nazi Social-National Party of Ukraine, the former commander of the Maidan armed forces, accused of the false-flag operation that saw snipers shooting their own from the Parubiy-controlled building, the former Secretary of the National Security and Defense Council of Ukraine in Poroshenko’s government and now the deputy Speaker of Ukraine’s parliament, had visited Ottawa.
While meeting with Prime Minister Trudeau, Parubiy had warned Canada against resuming regular diplomatic relations with Russia. Parubiy had also met with the Minister of National Defense of Canada to ensure Canada’s continuing military support of Ukraine. Trudeau assured the Ukrainian politician of Canada’s support, while Global Affairs Canada spokesman had to offer excuses as to why re-engaging Russia was, in the opinion of the department, still necessary.
In the end, the diaspora group, which still features the Brotherhood of Veterans of the14th Waffen Grenadier Division of the SS (1st Galician), currently under the more modest name of the 1st Division of the Ukrainian National Army, among its primary supporters, seems to have won over common sense.
The UCC’s position that the Russian government “is solely responsible for 9,000 deaths, ongoing war crimes and one of the world’s most catastrophic refugee crises in Ukraine with 1.5 million refugees that have fled Ukrainian territories invaded by Russia” flies in the face of the facts.
It is not the Russian tanks that have been shelling Donetsk three days in a row at the time of Mr. Parubiy’s visit. It is not the Russian government that leads the so-called “Anti-Terrorist Operation” against Ukraine’s own separatists in Donbas. It is, in fact, the government represented by Mr. Parubiy that commits these war acts clamoring for more weapons and military training from Canada – more military assistance that should permit the armed forces of Ukraine to be more efficient in suppressing the separatist rebellion, killing more people and evicting still more people from their homes in the process.
The UCC running Canada’s foreign policy with respect to Russia and Ukraine has started drawing national attention. A Feb. 26 article in the Globe and Mail notices the obvious: Canada’s powerful Ukrainian diaspora is hijacking the conduct of Canadian policies toward these two countries from the government in Ottawa.
“Bypassing official channels, Canada’s Ukrainian diaspora finances and fights a war against Russia,” notes MacKinnon, writing from Kiev. “Is the diaspora at war with Russia? Absolutely,” says the UCC local representative in Ukraine. “The diaspora is helping Ukraine defend itself. How do we do that? In any which way we can.”
And they do, in any way they can, from pressuring the government in Ottawa to doing things that go against Canada’s national interest and the Liberals’ own commitment to peaceful resolution of conflicts to raising funds and buying weapons, to arming the neo-Nazi volunteer battalions that have distinguished themselves by exemplary brutality in Donbas, to fighting on the front lines themselves.
And they do all of this in the name of the Ukrainian-Canadian community of Canada, which they do not represent.
The descendants of the World War II Banderite fighters and the Waffen SS soldiers do not and cannot represent the whole of the Ukrainian Canadian community, which has been growing in leaps over the last quarter century of the Ukrainian economic collapse.
However, the UCC and their ilk are the richest, best organized, best resourced and most vociferous among all of the Ukrainian Canadians. They claim to be able to muster the Ukrainian Canadian vote, and, to some extent, they deliver. Hence, the Stephen Harper Conservatives had outsourced Canada’s Ukrainian policy to the people who seem to be still fighting the battles of World War II.
There is a great risk that Justin Trudeau’s Liberals will be tempted to do the same. Yet, perhaps politicians do learn. There is still hope that the private UCC war will not succeed in torpedoing the much-needed rapprochement between Canada and the Russian Federation.