Canada calls on Russia to de-escalate tensions with Ukraine
On November 30, 2018, during the leaders’ retreat of the G20 Summit in Buenos Aires, Argentina, Prime Minister Justin Trudeau addressed the Russian President Vladimir Putin in regard to Canadian concerns about Russia’s actions near the Kerch Strait.
As stated by Justin Trudeau in the course of his press conference on the final day of the Summit, he asked Vladimir Putin to release the detained Ukrainian sailors and to permit free lawful passage into the Sea of Azov. Despite the fact that Canada’s request was left unresponded to by the Russian side, the Canadian Prime Minister set his hopes on de-escalation of the situation as a number of NATO countries, including Germany, France and the UK, are pre-occupied with this issue. And, indeed, the above-mentioned countries, together with other G7 states, issued a joint statement on the same day, urging restraint and respect for international law. “There is no justification for Russia’s use of military force against Ukrainian ships and naval personnel,” says the G7 statement. The document also reaffirmed the G7 stand on the illegality of Russia’s annexation of Crimea and their commitment to Ukraine’s sovereignty. Canada has received all the necessary information from the Ukrainian side and, according to the Canadian Foreign Minister Chrystia Freeland, has been leading the G7 countries on this matter. The first statement condemning Russia’s actions in the Kerch Strait was published by Freeland on Global Affairs Canada’s website on November 26 as a result of her consultations with Ukraine’s Foreign Minister Pavlo Klimkin. On November 29, on the eve of the G20 Summit, Justin Trudeau was briefed by the Ukrainian President Petro Poroshenko on “an increase in the number of Russian military equipment at the border” as well as “the introduction of martial law” in Ukraine, as reported by Ukraine’s Presidential Administration. Meanwhile, on November 25, the Ukrainian Canadian Congress called on Canada to counter Russian aggression by demanding an immediate release of all Ukrainian prisoners, including the detained sailors; imposing additional economic sanctions against Russia, i.e. “banning Russia from the SWIFT international payments system;” providing Ukraine with weapons and military equipment needed to defend against Russia; and cancelling Russia’s participation at the G20 Summit.
On November 25, 2018, Russia’s coast guard seized three Ukrainian naval vessels near Crimea and imprisoned their 24 sailors. In response to these Russian actions, the Ukrainian Parliament approved Poroshenko’s proposal, imposing the martial law in ten provinces of the country. Russia portrays the incident as a provocation in what they consider their territorial waters, aiming to improve electoral ratings prior to elections in Ukraine. The Russian Foreign Minister Spokeswoman Maria Zakharova, presenting a Russian official position at one of the political talk-show for the Russian state TV, said that if the same incident had happened near “the United States, Japan, Canada, France, or Germany, there would have been nothing left from those boats.” In turn, answering a question on a possibility of exchanging the Ukrainian sailors for Russian citizens detained in Ukraine at his press conference at the end of the G20 Summit, the Russian President Vladimir Putin mentioned that the first task would be “to prove the provocative nature of the Ukrainian authorities’ actions” for which there was need “to get a full account from the sailors.”