Foreign Affairs Minister John Baird says he will address growing concerns about the violence in Ukraine when he meets with officials from other European countries in Kiev on Thursday.
Ukraine is locked in a political crisis after President Viktor Yanukovych decided to suspend talks on a long-awaited deal with the European Union, citing political pressure from Moscow. The move sparked massive protests in Kiev and throughout the country, leading to violent clashes in recent days.
Mr. Baird was in Kiev a day ahead of meetings with the Organization for Security and Co-operation in Europe to meet with his counterpart in Ukraine as well as opposition leaders and civil-society representatives. The meetings underscore Canada’s long-standing relationship with the Eastern European country, which is bolstered by a large and politically engaged Ukrainian community in Canada.
“The crackdown on the protests in recent days is a significant concern,” Mr. Baird told reporters on a conference call from Kiev Wednesday. He said he met with Ukraine’s foreign minister to discuss the protests and the suspended EU talks and “expressed Canada’s deep concern and deep disappointment” at the violence that has occurred.
Asked if he would consider sanctions, Mr. Baird said Canada has so far refrained from commenting on the idea but expects it to come up during OSCE talks.
“In my meetings with opposition, civil society and other groups, this did come up on several occasions, about sanctioning those people who would have been responsible for the violence against peaceful protesters and journalists,” Mr. Baird said. He said it was too soon to come to any conclusions but noted he would talk with “like-minded allies” about the matter on Thursday.
U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry, who is skipping the OSCE meeting this week, praised neighbouring Moldova for signing an EU pact during a trip to that country on Wednesday. “To the people of the Ukraine we say the same thing – you too deserve the opportunity to choose your own future,” Mr. Kerry said.
Canada has a long history of engagement with Ukraine, where it maintains a foreign-aid program and frequently monitors elections. Canada sent about 500 observers during the country’s 2012 parliamentary elections and plans to send another 25 to upcoming by-elections, Mr. Baird said Wednesday.
Liberal Leader Justin Trudeau said Canada can be proud of the role it has played in Ukraine “as election observers and as supporters of a movement toward true democracy.” Speaking in Ottawa on Wednesday, he said Canada should continue to be a strong voice for citizen’s rights.
Dominique Arel, chair of Ukrainian studies at the University of Ottawa, said Canada’s interest in Ukraine is also linked closely to politics at home, where an estimated 1.2 million Ukrainian-Canadians live. “There’s clearly an electoral imperative to appeal to the relatively well-organized Ukrainian community in Canada,” he said.
Taras Kuzio, a professor with the Canadian Institute of Ukrainian Studies at the University of Alberta, said there is widespread support both in Ukraine and among Ukrainian-Canadians for the country to develop closer ties with the European Union. “The president [of Ukraine] is going against the wishes of the majority of the Ukrainian population, particularly young people and the rising middle class,” Prof. Kuzio said.
Mr. Baird said Canada plans to continue to work with Ukraine on governance issues. “We’re committed to work with the people of Ukraine in its democratic development and that’s a long-term commitment,” he said.
With a report from Reuters