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Ukraine has not received Canadian aid promised months ago, ambassador says

Canadian Foreign Affairs Minister John Baird (left) meets with Vadym Prystaiko, Ukrainian Ambassador to Canada, on Parliament Hill in Ottawa, Tuesday, March 4 2014.

FRED CHARTRAND/THE CANADIAN PRESS

Ukraine's ambassador to Canada says financial aid Ottawa pledged four months ago has not yet materialized and a request for non-lethal equipment has gone unanswered.

Canada announced a $200-million-plus financial package for Ukraine in mid-March and that same month Kiev asked Ottawa and other NATO allies for supplies to bolster its fight against pro-Russian separatists . It wants equipment such as body armour, communication technology and medical supplies.

So far none of Ottawa's financial aid has flowed and the Canadian government has not responded to this request for material support, said Vadym Prystaiko, Ukraine's envoy to Canada.

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"I don't want to offend the Canadian government," he said. But, "frankly, I am at the end of my patience."

The comments mark a rare point of friction between Canada and Ukraine at a time when Prime Minister Stephen Harper has made censure of Russia and solidarity with Kiev a centrepiece of government policy, measures that play well with the more than one million Canadians of Ukrainian descent.

Discontent is building with the Ukrainian Canadian community too. "We're very surprised that Canada, which considers itself one of Ukraine's best friends on the international stage, has still not delivered what Ukraine really needs today: that is money and non-lethal military aid to defend themselves," Paul Grod, president of the Ukrainian Canadian Congress, said.

Ukraine's envoy said Kiev is grateful for Mr. Harper's strong political support but needs Canada to "step up with what they promised."

On March 13, Canada pledged $200-million in loans and loan guarantees "to help Ukraine stabilize its economy and promote economic and social development."

The ambassador said talks over an agreement with Canada to disburse this aid are still taking place – "conditions, commas in the text, everything" – and he feels it's dragging on too long.

"They promised quite a lot. We want to see something," Mr. Prystaiko says. He says the United States and European Union have already come through with pledged financial aid.

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Canadian officials said it's taking time to ensure the right conditions are attached to the aid, including reporting requirements and restrictions on where the money will be spent, whether it's for banking sector reform or anti-corruption measures. Corruption has plagued Ukraine for decades.

"While it's a bureaucratic step, in order to provide assurances to taxpayers that this money is being used wisely, there is obviously certain conditions we have to have met," Rick Roth, director of communications for Foreign Affairs Minister John Baird, said.

Ukraine's ambassador said he realizes there are rules Canada must follow but his country's requirements are dire. "We need it right now because of the war. I believe the war should be taken into account in speeding up the process," Mr. Prystaiko said.

The envoy says Ukraine is hard pressed to enact reforms when its finances, already damaged by the former Yanukovych government, are stretched due to the fight against pro-Moscow rebels and massive upheaval caused by Russia's seizing of Crimea.

"We are pouring all the money in our budget, which was completely devastated by the previous government, into the anti-terrorism campaign," Mr. Prystaiko says. "We have 85,000 internal refugees."

He's equally frustrated by Canada's lack of progress on non-lethal aid for Ukraine's security forces after four months, saying Kiev is looking for "something to help us fight" including all-terrain vehicles, drone aircraft or even BlackBerry phones.

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"We have been negotiating for some time, to put it diplomatically," Mr. Prystaiko said, noting countries such as France and the United States have already provided non-lethal aid.

"We understand the bureaucratic process is very long but there are people dying each and every day."

Mr. Roth said Canada is still studying the request for non-weapon aid. Foreign Affairs would have to analyze such exports and how they'd be used.

"I don't think anyone can say Canada hasn't pulled its weight in its support for a prosperous and democratic Ukraine," the Baird spokesman said.

Mr. Prystaiko said the internal struggle with rebels backed by Russia is overwhelming. "It's very difficult to fight with a country that is among the biggest in the globe," Kiev's envoy said. "Everybody is sympathetic but that is not enough."

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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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