Foreign Affairs Minister Mélanie Joly says she doesn’t have faith in Moscow’s willingness to negotiate a diplomatic solution to the war in Ukraine that could lead to a ceasefire and withdrawal of Russian military forces.
Russian and Ukrainian officials have been meeting this week through video link but little progress has been reported in the negotiations.
Ms. Joly said she has been kept informed of those talks but was not optimistic for a diplomatic breakthrough.
“Right now, I am extremely concerned how Russia has been acting at the negotiating table,” she said during a talk at the Munk School of Global Affairs and Public Policy on Friday. “Actually, I don’t trust at all what Russia is doing at the negotiating table.”
Ms. Joly said the Ukrainians are trying to negotiate a humanitarian corridor for civilians fleeing the war while the Russian forces continue to fire indiscriminately. Russia has also repeatedly rejected Ukraine’s pleas to allow the Red Cross access to the war zone to help injured civilians.
“Imagine that, the Red Cross, which is a neutral organization, they don’t want that because clearly what is happening is war crimes and crimes against humanity is happening in Ukraine,” she said.
France’s Foreign Minister, Jean-Yves Le Drian, has also been quoted as saying that he believes the Russians are only pretending to negotiate.
Ukraine has been willing to accept neutral military status in exchange for legally binding security guarantees. It is also seeking a ceasefire and withdrawal of Russian troops.
The Associated Press has reported that the main subject under discussion in the talks is whether Russian troops would remain in the two separatist regions of eastern Ukraine after the war and where the borders would be.
Just before the invasion, Moscow recognized the independence of the two regions, which have been controlled by Russian-backed separatists since 2014, and extended their borders to areas Ukraine had continued to hold, including the strategically important port city of Mariupol, which has faced constant and brutal shelling since the war began.
The United Nations says the fighting has led more than three million people to flee Ukraine, with an unknown overall death toll in the three-week-old war.
Ms. Joly said about one million Ukrainians a week have been leaving their homeland to escape Russian bombardments. Canada is willing to accept an “unlimited” number of displaced people, she said, adding that Ottawa is in the process of working out the details of an airlift.
The federal government announced a streamlined visa process on Thursday, allowing displaced Ukrainians to stay in Canada for up to three years. Under the visa program, they can leave and return to Canada any time and their visas will remain valid.
Ms. Joly said Canada and its Western allies are also deeply concerned about Russian disinformation campaigns. She pointed to Moldova, a tiny country that borders Ukraine, which has received more than 250,000 Ukrainian refugees.
Moldova’s President Maia Sandu told her that the country has been subjected to relentless Russian propaganda that portrays Ukrainians as criminals, Ms. Joly said, as she called on Western social-media companies to stop aiding Russia’s disinformation.
“Putin is trying to leverage his propaganda machine to rationalize the use of violence,” she said. “Social-media companies need to do more to prevent propaganda to counter any form of disinformation … they have a responsibility to step up to the plate.”
Ms. Joly said Ottawa is determined to send more weapons to Ukraine and impose additional sanctions on Russia.
So far, Canada has sent 100 Carl Gustav anti-tank weapons and 2,000 rounds of ammunition to Ukraine’s military as well as 4,500 M72 rocket launchers, grenades, helmets, body armour and food packages.
The rocket launchers and shoulder-held anti-tank weapons came from the Canadian Armed Forces inventory and Defence Minister Anita Anand said this week that there are no weapons left to be sent to Ukraine, without jeopardizing the military’s capacity to respond to a different crisis.
However, Ms. Anand said the government is expected to boost defence spending in the coming federal budget likely to be tabled in early April.
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