By Medicine Hat News Opinon on August 2, 2017.
It’s time to get serious about re-engagement with Russia. With the Trump White House stewing in accusations of collusion during the presidential election, the United States seems unable or unwilling to do the heavy lifting it needs to do to open pathways toward reproachment. God knows Canada has its own problems with Russia, especially with regards to its annexation of the Crimea and its ongoing support for Russian-speaking separatist rebels in eastern Ukraine. Canada has one of the largest Ukrainian-speaking populations in the world outside of the Ukraine; thus there is an existing internal driver for ongoing frosty relations inherit in the Canadian political landscape.
Since the election of Prime Minister Justin Trudeau bilateral tensions have softened somewhat — Russian president Vladimir Putin was definitely not a fan of our former prime minister Stephen Harper, and the feeling was mutual. Now that this personality conflict is put aside Canada-Russia ties have reset to neutral. Not exactly rosy, but far from hostile.
There is probably a willingness on both sides to re-engage, but it seems Russia has, until recently, been quite naturally focusing most of its re-engagement efforts on Donald Trump. Now that this campaign appears to be a non-starter with new sanctions imposed on their nation by the U.S. scheduled to take affect soon, the Russians will likely be looking to focus new energy and diplomatic effort further afield.
Historically, when relations between the United States and Russia have soured to this point Canada has served as a useful mediator between the two sides. It is a role we should consider taking up again, but Russia would have to show some concrete actions toward making that happen.
First, Russia needs to show some effort in eastern Ukraine toward dampening the armed rebellion there. Pulling out its covert forces on the ground would be a step in the right direction. Secondly, Russia would need to lift its travel ban on our Foreign Affairs Minister Chrystia Freeland.
Freeland is not popular in the Kremlin because the former journalist worked in Russia for many years and wrote several scathing reports on Putin’s autocratic control over the Russian political landscape. Previously the Russian government said it would only allow Freeland to enter if Canada agreed to lift its sanctions against Russia. It is time for Russia to put that thought aside.
If they want to move forward on Canadian-Russian relations, it is completely within Russia’s power to do so by simply allowing Canada’s top diplomat to come and meet with its own foreign minister to help eventually facilitate a bilateral meeting between Putin and Trudeau.
While we haven’t quite reached Cold War levels of hostility between the United States and Russia yet, the longer ties continue to be frozen, (and the harder the economic landscape becomes for Russians as sanctions bite home), the greater the chance of open hostilities breaking out between these two former Cold War foes.
Re-engagement is essential, but it can’t only be on Russia’s terms.
(Tim Kalinowski is a News reporter. To comment on this and other editorials, go to http://www.medicinehatnews.com/opinions.)
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