Canada was one of the first nations to recognize Ukraine’s independence. This accounts for its interest in our internal affairs. Canada’s government was the first to implement sanctions against the Ukrainian government representatives. Also, Ottawa was one of the first G8 countries to recall its ambassador from Russia after Russian troops violated the agreement on the Black Sea Fleet in Crimea, and Russia’s president obtained a sanction from the Federation Council to bring troops to Ukraine. A group of Canadian MPs and Canada’s Minister of Foreign Affairs John Baird arrived in Kyiv last Friday to support the Ukrainian people and the newly formed government. The Day talked to Senator Raynell Andreychuk, who was the head of the Independent Canadian Observer Mission for Ukrainian Parliamentary Election in December 2012, and House of Commons MP Ted Opitz, member of the Conservative Party, who represents the Etobicoke Centre constituency and was also an observer during the election of 2010 and the by-election of 2012. The conversation started with whether they could imagine a few months ago that Euromaidan would end in such a way.
“IT WAS A REVOLUTION”
Raynell ANDREYCHUK: “A revolution, or to be more precise, a conflict started with the government statement on halting the signing of the Association Agreement. And people wanted the government to hear them. They carried out their peaceful protest day after day, but they were ignored. And when the violence burst out, there was no hope that government would listen to the people. As for the revolution, I think that people who came to Maidan will watch whether the coalition will guarantee, and adhere to, the democratic principles. And if they do, they will achieve success.
“But you know, changes will progress very slowly. It was like that in my country. And it will be the same here. That is why people must be patient. But they have to arrange everything in a way so the government will be responsible to them. So, it will be a test on whether the coalition will work not for itself, but for people. Whether they will act in a way that will keep this democratic process going. Therefore, step by step, day by day, people must see that their lives are improving.”
Ted OPITZ: “Today’s visit to Maidan was a very sad event for me. I was there in December, when re-elections in some constituencies took place. It was a different Maidan back then, now it is a zone of military operations. Today we can say it was a revolution. It is a place where people died. And the sight is very depressing, especially from above, the charred Trade Union Center. A sight which sobers you up quickly.
“If we assess what has happened, we can say that people who died have ‘invested’ in Maidan. Maidan showed that people did not run away from bullets, on the contrary, they ran to meet the bullets, which contradicts the very essence of human nature. Such will and determination is what changes the country. Such will and determination inspires generations to do better, to do good. And this happened very quickly. And this speed is incredible. A week ago, no one in the government knew this would happen. No one could foresee it. This precedent is a clear demonstration of the nation’s collective will. The fact that the opposition members support it while putting their differences aside for the common goal is encouraging. But this does not eliminate the huge challenges that lie ahead.”
“CANADA WILL STAND TOGETHER WITH THE UKRAINIAN PEOPLE TO HELP THEM ACHIEVE THEIR ASPIRATION”
Was the success of the revolution facilitated by the fact that the Canadian government imposed sanctions on Ukrainian government officials who were involved in violence?
R.A.: “I think Ukrainians started changing themselves, and that is why they deserve a victory. Canada wanted to impose sanctions a long time ago indeed, because we saw the violence perpetrated by the government. So I think it helped. But it cannot be the only answer, what people did and what they wanted is important. I hope Russia will react and recognize the territorial integrity of Ukraine. After all, it signed the Budapest Memorandum in 1994. I am an optimist, I think that Russia will keep its word, and if not, its honesty will be questioned by the whole world. I hope that a peaceful solution for the Crimean problem will be found, I hope people themselves will decide how they want to be governed and in which form. There must be no external influence. Everything changes from hour to hour, it is hard to explain what is going on in Crimea. I appeal to everyone to preserve the country’s territorial integrity and let the people decide for themselves where they want to move.”
T.O.: “Canada, which I represent, and the Prime Minister Harper has such strong feelings for Ukraine that he sent his foreign minister with a delegation to Kyiv. As the prime minister said, we have to be there with the Ukrainian people. So, we are here and I hope we demonstrate to the people of Ukraine that Canada is a friend, Canada will stand with the Ukrainian people to help them achieve its goals and aspirations, hopes for prosperity in the future for all your children and for living in a society which is built on the principles of freedom, democracy, human rights, and the rule of law. And the Crimean problem must be settled today. It is crucial that rights and aspirations of all Ukrainian people, especially those who have different religions, languages, all the minorities must be justly represented and have equal vote. All these factors you deal with today and in the future are a completely new territory, in other words, it is a terra incognita.”
“UKRAINIANS MUST SEE THAT THE GOVERNMENT CARES ABOUT PEOPLE, BUT NOT ABOUT ITSELF”
What is your impression of the new government, the representatives of which you met today?
R.A.: “In my country, when you come to a village or town, people want the government to help them, they want to see the positive changes. And obviously, when looking at this government, Ukrainians have to see it cares about people, not about itself. I urge the government to think about what is the best for people. Therefore I am optimistic, there are talented people in the government, a bit of fresh blood, a bit of old blood.
“There are 1.2 million Canadians who identify themselves as Ukrainians. I spent a lot of time in Canada explaining to people why Ukraine is important for Canada. Even if you do not have Ukrainian roots, I said, Ukraine is crucial for peace in Europe and stability in the world. That is why our foreign minister came here after his visit to Australia, he arrived at three in the morning, and had a lot of meetings in Kyiv, asking how Canada could help. And that is why now is the moment to use the opportunity and work together.”
T.O.: “I think they all understand the sense of urgency in regard to the stabilization of the economy, renewal of democratic principles, and planning the next election in May. I have observed two elections here: a general parliamentary one and re-election in five constituencies in December. The nation has to work together, citizens must influence the government so they will not accept bribes or act in illegitimate ways. People must go and cast their vote without being forced to make a choice, without intimidation. This is the maturity of the nation, if you are capable of having free transparent elections. It will mean the society is developing. And you will receive leaders you want to have. But you must also encourage the leaders that are going to participate in the election. Conditions must be created for those people, so they have an opportunity to present their candidacies, represent their constituencies in the most fair and honest way possible. I think the whole country has a common desire to reach these standards of fair elections.”
“THE GOVERNMENT HAS TO CREATE AN EXTERNAL POLICY WITH RUSSIA INSTEAD OF A POLICY OF RESPONSE TO SPECIFIC ACTIONS”
How do you interpret Putin’s “golden silence”? This is how foreign media called the Russian president’s silence on this matter.
R.A.: “Putin has been silent for a long time. Even during the negotiations between the EU and Ukraine, but then the moment came when he started acting. I have Slavic roots, we do not make hasty decisions, instead, we have our own ideas. I do not interpret this silence in a negative way. I have a lot of respect for Russia as a country and the role of the president, that is why I urge Putin to recognize his obligations, which are fixed in the Budapest Memorandum of 1994, and while being a part of the international community, to recognize the territorial sovereignty of Ukraine and help it in its transformation. It would be in his best interests. At the same time, I think that the coalition government must create an external policy with Russia instead of a policy of response to specific actions. In Canada, we live close to a big neighbor, and it is not always easy. That is why Ukraine must find ways to work with Russia for the mutual benefit of both countries. I think if they will respect each other, there will be a good opportunity to work together.
“The world is very large, it is changing, so are international powers, and now a single country cannot control everything by itself. That is why I think it is in Russia’s best interest not to act negatively in relations with Ukraine, but start positive relations with Europe and all other neighbors. After all, this would be the best. It is the moment of opportunity for President Putin to use the potential of a large country in a positive way. And we will see how he acts in regard to Crimea.”
T.O.: “I cannot make assumptions on what Putin is thinking. Nobody can do that. So I will not do it. I think that your leaders will address him, and I am convinced there will be a dialog. I hope it will consist of productive discussions that will lead to positive decisions for both sides and let Ukraine as an undivided country to pursue its course and develop the democratic fabric and the potential of the country. There are no reasons for Ukraine not to become a great country in Europe. It has extremely intelligent and hard-working people. As I have already said, people’s will, their desire to succeed were obvious on Maidan. This will is changing the nation every day. It is a great multiplication force, which enhances the effect of initiative. You also have vast amounts of natural resources, gas, mineral resources, and a natural gift, the traditional ability to grow foodstuffs. And with a good government and a reinforced economy, and with consolidated democratic institutions, Ukraine will potentially recuperate quickly. I would like to see you on the way to signing the Association Agreement. As you have seen, Poland, Lithuania, Estonia, Latvia, all these countries started with similar agreements in mid-1990s. At first, it will be hard to build up the power that will let you follow this path. There will be hard days. And people must be realistic about this. But as soon as you cope with these challenges, and fulfill the necessary conditions, Ukraine will be in a much better state to use its natural resources, and after increasing your effectiveness, you will start reaping rewards.”
What can you say about the efforts of the Ukrainian government on the settlement of the Crimean crisis? What must the international community do not to let the annexation of Crimea take place?
T.O.: “This is a short-term challenge for the new government how to settle this problem. These are the first days, it is hard to make predictions on the situation. Russia is and must remain part of the negotiations on deciding this new reality.”
But it is rather part of this problem, isn’t it?
T.O.: “We cannot talk about hypothetical things now. This did not happen yet, and it is not in anyone’s interest. There must be a dialog now, a study of possible options of settling this issue. I can say that Canada and all countries that signed the Budapest Memorandum of 1994, our allies and other countries, all of us have clearly stated, as Prime Minister Harper said, that we firmly support the sovereignty and integrity of Ukraine. And I think most of the countries have the same viewpoint. In the next few days we will see how the situation unfolds and what solutions are found.”