A senior Ukrainian government official is calling on Canada and European allies to help keep a united Western front against Russian aggression from crumbling in the wake of the election of Donald Trump, who has repeatedly expressed admiration for Vladimir Putin.
Ivanna Klympush-Tsintsadze, Vice-Prime Minister of Ukraine in charge of European and Euro-Atlantic Integration, visited Ottawa Thursday en route to the Halifax International Security Forum, an annual gathering of defence and foreign-affairs officials from 60 democratically run countries.
It's been more than 2 1/2 years since Mr. Putin, the Russian President, illegally took over the Ukrainian peninsula of Crimea and began supporting pro-Moscow militants in eastern Ukraine; these forces loyal to Russia are still fighting an armed conflict with Kiev in the Donbass region. Mr. Trump, now the U.S. president-elect, made a number of confusing, sometimes contradictory, statements on Ukraine during his election campaign, including suggesting that people in Crimea prefer to live under Russian rule.
"You know, the people of Crimea, from what I've heard, would rather be with Russia than where they were," he told ABC News in July.
Ms. Klympush-Tsintsadze said it's statements such as this by Mr. Trump that caused "our concern and worry during the campaign."
The American celebrity businessman is preparing to take power in January just as the Western NATO military alliance is readying to shore up its eastern flank by deploying four battle groups in a show of might designed to check future Russian expansionism. The Kremlin has already called on Mr. Trump to reverse this.
The Ukrainian Vice-Prime Minister said Ukraine has enjoyed bipartisan support in the United States from both Democrats and Republicans since the conflict with Russia began and she said her "whole country … hopes the new president and his administration will be following the traditional path of foreign and security policy that is known to be shared by the Republican Party."
Ms. Klympush-Tsintsadze said it's important that Canada does not waver from its "very clear stance" that Mr. Putin has violated international law.
"If Canada will preserve this leadership and shares this leadership with the European nations, I am sure this will help all of us to persuade the U.S. to follow the traditional policy of the Republican Party" toward Russia and Ukraine.
She said Ukrainians are hoping Mr. Trump will "rethink his earlier statements made during the campaign."
It's hard enough, she said, just keeping Russian aggression in Ukraine on the world's agenda with other matters such as the Brexit breakup in Europe, the Syrian conflict and the refugee crisis overwhelming European leaders.
As of mid-September, the United Nations has said the number of documented deaths in eastern Ukraine was at least 9,640, with more than 2,000 of these civilians.
"We don't have a frozen conflict on our territory. We have a pretty hot and bloody conflict going on because every single day we have shelling by Russian regular forces stationed in the occupied territories of Donbass," Ms. Klympush-Tsintsadze said.
"Every single day, we are either losing our soldiers and civilians as they are killed or wounded. At the same time, [what] Russia is trying to do – pretty efficiently so far – is turn the Ukrainian tourist resort of Crimea into a military stronghold and base."
Mr. Trump also this past summer asserted there was no chance Russia was "going to go into Ukraine," even though Moscow had already invaded and taken over Crimea in 2014. In September, speaking to Russia government-funded Russia Today, he called Mr. Putin "far more of a leader" than U.S. President Barack Obama.
Ms. Klympush-Tsintsadze will be taking part in the Halifax International Security Forum over the next few days where the hot topic will be the impact of the American presidential election on geopolitics.
"With the election of Donald Trump, we simply don't know exactly what he is going to do," said Peter Van Praagh, president of the Halifax forum. He said the president-elect's cabinet picks should provide more insight.
Foreign attendees will include Republican Senator John McCain and former Democratic vice-presidential candidate Tim Kaine, as well as British Defence Secretary Michael Fallon and Jean-Yves Le Drian, France's Minister of Defence.
Paul Grod, president of the Ukrainian-Canadian Congress, said the Ukrainian-Canadian community is deeply concerned Mr. Trump will attempt to alter U.S. policies toward Russia. He said Canada must do what it can to keep pressure on Russia. "Canada's principled support for Ukraine and leadership on the international stage in standing up to Russia is needed today more than ever."