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Ukrainian politician warns Ottawa not to resume ties with Russia

First Deputy Speaker of the Ukrainian parliament Andriy Parubiy in Ottawa February 23, 2015.

CHRIS WATTIE/REUTERS

A leading Ukrainian politician is warning Canada against resuming regular diplomatic relations with Russia, arguing efforts to re-engage Moscow, as the Trudeau government plans, have failed elsewhere.

Prime Minister Justin Trudeau's government says it wants to start talking to Russia again – on topics of shared concern such as the Arctic. The former Harper government suspended all but low-level diplomatic contacts after Moscow seized and annexed Ukraine's Crimean peninsula in 2014.

Russia is still backing pro-Moscow militants in eastern Ukraine who continue to destabilize the region despite a shaky ceasefire.

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Andriy Parubiy, deputy Speaker of Ukraine's parliament, the Verkhovna Rada, is visiting Ottawa this week to meet with members of Parliament and senators and bolster Canadian support for Ukraine. He said the fight against the Islamic State in Syria and Iraq has distracted many governments, including Canada.

"Regarding the new reset policy of Canada towards Russia, we would like to tell Canadians how dangerous Russia is for global security," Mr. Parubiy said in an interview. "Several years ago, we saw the reset attempts of [the] Obama [administration] and we saw how it failed."

He argued that Russian President Vladimir Putin will take advantage of warming relations.

"Putin understands only the language of force in international relations," the deputy Speaker said. "The diplomacy of the Western countries – he perceives [this] as a sign of weakness … you will lose time and you will be back where you started from."

Russian Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov last month welcomed the shift in policy by the Trudeau government and took a swipe at Ukrainian-Canadian lobby groups, saying the defeated Conservative government was "Russophobic" and had "blindly" followed "the demands of rabid representatives of the Ukrainian diaspora in Canada."

Mr. Parubiy said he is working to create an interparliamentary Ukraine-Canada friendship group of MPs and senators, and hopes to bring Canadian parliamentarians to Ukraine for a visit soon.

He said people around the world are under the mistaken impression that the crisis in Ukraine is over.

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The ceasefire between Kiev and pro-Moscow forces in the eastern Donbass region has left the conflict unresolved. More than 9,100 people have died in the fighting there since April, 2014, according to the United Nations Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs.

Canada has lent Ukraine $400-million to help rebuild and has donated non-lethal military aid to Kiev's forces. Canadian soldiers are training Ukrainian troops in western Ukraine, and the two countries are finalizing a Canada-Ukraine trade deal.

Foreign Minister Stéphane Dion's department defended a return to broader diplomatic relations with Russia.

"Engaging in dialogue with Russia is not the same as agreeing with Russia. We will speak clearly, bluntly and directly to Russia about its unacceptable behaviour," Global Affairs Canada spokesman François Lasalle said. "We have one of the strongest sanctions regimes in the world, in order to apply economic pressure on Russia and the Putin government for its aggression against Ukraine."

Conservative defence critic James Bezan said isolating Russia is the only way to deal with Moscow's occupation of Ukraine. "This whole issue of normalization of relations … is really a codeword for appeasement," Mr. Bezan said.

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About the Author
Parliamentary reporter

Steven Chase has covered federal politics in Ottawa for The Globe since mid-2001, arriving there a few months before 9/11. He previously worked in the paper's Vancouver and Calgary bureaus. Prior to that, he reported on Alberta politics for the Calgary Herald and the Calgary Sun, and on national issues for Alberta Report. More

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