Canada, Ukraine & Russia’s ‘Near Abroad’

Ukraine's Quest for Mature Nation Statehood Roundtable X:
"Compelling Bilateral Relations"

Canada, Ukraine & Russia’s ‘Near Abroad’

Derek Fraser

Featured remarks by Derek Fraser, Canadian Ambassador (retired), delivered at Ukraine’s Quest for Mature Nation Statehood RT X: Compelling Bilateral Relations, held in Washington DC on Oct 21–22, 2009.

Ladies and Gentlemen,

We have been asked to analyse the relations of each of our countries with Ukraine and to make recommendations for our future course of action in the light of Russia”s continuing attempts to dominate Ukraine.

To understand the importance of Ukraine to Canada, one has to bear in mind that, while Canada has a population that is one ninth the size of that in the United States, there are about the same number of Ukrainian-Canadians as there are of Ukrainian-Americans. As a result, Ukrainian-Canadians loom large in Canadian political life. They also bring a strong influence to bear on Canadian foreign policy. For this reason, since 1991, we have contributed over $370 million in technical assistance to Ukraine, making ours one of the largest national aid programs. It is likely that Ukraine will remain important to Canada in the future as well.

Russia”s relations with Ukraine just now are especially tense, not only because of Ukraine”s campaign to join NATO, but also because of Ukraine”s support for Georgia in last year”s war, and its refusal to renew the lease expiring in 2017 on the Russian naval base at Sevastopol. Prime Minister Putin, when he was president, questioned Ukraine”s separate existence as a country and threatened its territorial integrity. In what could be the beginning of Russian interference in the Ukrainian presidential election of January 2010, President Medvedev has accused President Yushchenko of anti-Russian activities. He has announced that Russian would not send a new ambassador to Ukraine.

The Ukrainians claim that the Russians are supporting a separatist movement in Transcarpathia. Acting Foreign Minister Kostenko has alleged that the Russians are issuing tens of thousands” Russian passports to Ukrainians in order to furnish a pretext for intervention. Senior Ukrainians have begun to consider seriously the possibility of a Russian military attack on Ukraine.

The intensification of Russian pressure on Ukraine should lead us to examine our existing policies affecting Ukraine:

  • We might work more closely with the EU to offer greater support to Ukraine.
  • We might aim at bringing Russia to accept the reality of Ukrainian independence.

Working with the EU to strengthen Western Incentives for Ukrainian reforms

With the eclipse of Ukraine”s relationship with NATO, the EU has become the primary Western pole of attraction for Ukraine. The hope for eventual membership in the EU has long been a major incentive driving Ukrainian reforms. While Ukraine is clearly not capable of meeting the standards for EU for a long time to come, a clear offer of eventual EU membership if Ukraine met the conditions, could transform Ukrainian political life by creating by creating a common project of society for broad spectrum of Ukrainian public opinion. Unfortunately, because the EU tends to make its relations with the other ex-Soviet republics subject to Russian views, it has, while not totally shutting the door, been largely negative on the subject of membership for the other former Soviet republics. The EU”s position limited the attractiveness of the EU”s earlier European Neighbourhood Policy (ENP), its plan for promoting political and economic reform, and stability in the neighbouring countries.

To respond to criticisms of the European Neighbourhood Policy, the EU unveiled on 3 December 2008, the Eastern Partnership. The Eastern Partnership appears to be an improvement on the European Neighbourhood Policy. The Eastern Partnership offers, among other things, free trade, closer energy ties, visa liberalization, and apparently better financial assistance programs to support the adoption of reforms. It still does not offer, however, membership in the EU, although it does not shut the door to the possibility. Ukraine, while welcoming the Partnership, has reiterated that EU membership remains its goal. There is a danger, therefore, that the new plan too may turn out to insufficient to mobilize Ukrainian public opinion to support serious reforms.

At the same time, the Ukrainians should realize that the EU”s offer is not that different from the EU”s initial offers of assistance to the Central European states, Poland, the Czech Republic and Hungary. They too were promised aid, not membership. They recognized, however, that an aggressive policy of reform would likely open further doors for them.

In considering what their course of action might be in these circumstances, the two North American countries should bear in mind that calling on the EU to offer Ukraine membership in the EU is unlikely to bear results. The United States has for many years urged without effect the EU to admit Turkey into its ranks

Instead, Canada and the United States might consider working more closely with the EU in providing political and economic support to Ukraine. We might even think of offering economic concessions to make the Eastern Partnership more attractive. Canada has offered to negotiate a free trade agreement with Ukraine. Canada might co-ordinate its offer with that of the EU. The United States might follow the Canadian example.

Aim at Bringing Russia to Accept the Reality of Ukrainian Independence

The recent efforts of the United States to reset US –Russian relations have nevertheless left the issue of Russia”s claim to primacy over the former Soviet Union unresolved. We cannot accept the Russian claim to hegemony over the other former Soviet republics. What the history of the twentieth century should have taught us is that the same rules of law and conduct have to apply throughout the continent. The loss of Ukrainian independence would be an affront to our values. It would also create a shift in the balance of power in Europe that would be harmful to our interests. We have to make it clear therefore that we will oppose any efforts by Russia to impose its hegemony on Eastern Europe. We cannot therefore accept the Russian proposals for a European Security Treaty.

Instead, we might propose modernizing the Conventional Forces in Europe Treaty (CFE), and giving greater force to the Organization of Security and Cooperation in Europe (OSCE).

We should, in any case, become more active in the Organization of Security and Cooperation in Europe (OSCE).

We should insist more strongly on respect for the principles of the Helsinki Accords that set up the OSCE:

  • the sovereign equality of all member states,
  • refraining from the threat or use of force,
  • the inviolability of frontiers,
  • the territorial integrity of states,
  • the peaceful settlement of disputes,
  • the non-intervention in internal affairs,
  • respect for human rights and fundamental freedoms,
  • equal rights and self-determination of peoples.

We should make greater use of the mechanisms of the OSCE”s first dimension, that of politico-military security:

  • To strengthen military security in sensitive areas we need to renew our efforts to promote greater openness, transparency and co-operation.
  • We must again have independent observers and peacekeeping forces monitor and manage sensitive borders.
  • We must take more seriously our obligation to facilitate lasting comprehensive political settlements for existing conflicts.

We should give a stronger impulse of energy to the OSCE”s third dimension, the human dimension:

  • We should give stronger backing to the Office for Democratic Institutions and Human Rights (ODIHR), in its work of election observation, and support for democratic development, human rights, tolerance, non-discrimination and rule of law.

We should might repeatedly remind Russia of the Budapest Memorandum of 1994 under which Russia, the UK and the USA undertook to respect Ukraine’s borders, to abstain from the use or threat of force against Ukraine, to support Ukraine where an attempt is made to place pressure on it by economic coercion, and to bring any incident of aggression by a nuclear power before the UN Security Council.

If we had earlier shown greater vigour in insisting on respect for the principles and provisions of the treaties and organizations putting an end to the Cold War, we might have been able to head off the Russo-Georgian war. Should we do so now, we may be able to deter further tragedies. We must ensure that Russia does not use the invasion of Georgia as a precedent for further adventures.

If we do not accept the Russian claim to hegemony, however, we have to deal with Russia”s concern that its security is being threatened by Western expansion.

In response, we might offer a new concept of European security – the gradual integration of Russia into Western structures provided Russia proceeds with reforms intended to make it a functioning democracy and market economy, and provided it develops relations with the other former Soviet republics on the basis of genuine equality and respect for the principles of international law and the Helsinki Accords.

Admittedly, the Russians now officially show little or no interest in being accepted into existing Western political and economic institutions. Instead, they are concentrating on developing their relations with China. The relationship with China, however, appears to be accompanied by distrust and potential rivalry on both sides. In the past, the Russians have, before being rebuffed, informally indicated their desire to join Western organizations. Furthermore, the desirability of integrating with the West keeps being raised in academic articles.

For this reason, we believe that the initiative we propose is worth exploring. The success of our efforts to enable Ukraine to develop as an independent, democratic and prosperous state, anchored in Western institutions, may ultimately depend on our ability to reach some such an understanding with Russia.