Canada’s foreign minister heads to Poland

By Mike Blanchfield

OTTAWA — Foreign Affairs Minister Mélanie Joly is headed to the Poland-Ukraine border today to ensure that Canada’s latest supply of military aid flows into the war-ravaged country.

Her visit comes as Prime Minister Justin Trudeau announced Monday that Canada was sending anti-tank weapons and upgraded ammunition to Ukraine, which amounted to a significant enhancement in lethal military aid.

Canada will be providing 125 portable anti-tank weapons and 2,000 rockets from the arsenal of the Canadian Forces, said Defence Minister Anita Anand.

Canada was also bolstering its presence in the region so it can fast-track immigration applications for Ukrainians who want to come to Canada, Trudeau added.

Joly said she will also be meeting with her Polish counterparts in Warsaw to discuss the refugee crisis spawned by the Russian invasion of Ukraine.

“My role in this is to make sure that this aid gets in the arms of Ukrainian soldiers that are fighting for their life and fighting for their motherland,” Joly told reporters from Geneva on Monday.

Joly will be overseeing the delivery of previous Canadian military contributions, not the new anti-tank weaponry announced Monday.

Joly earlier told a United Nations panel that Russia lied to the world in the run-up to its invasion of Ukraine.

“Russia is the only one to blame for this crisis. It chose to resort to lies and violence and fabricate all the pieces of a crisis to try and undermine the rule of law and violate the rights of people,” Joly told the UN Human Rights Council meeting in Geneva.

“Worse, they’re trying to justify their war by spreading a false rhetoric and attempting to manipulate the principles of human rights to support their illegal and illegitimate violence.”

Joly was in Geneva after Russian and Ukrainian delegations met for talks earlier in the day in an attempt to defuse the biggest land conflict on the continent since the Second World War.

Outmatched Ukrainian forces were holding off the onslaught of a land, air and sea attack by Russia as President Vladimir Putin raised the stakes further by placing his country’s nuclear forces on alert. 

Asked on a media video conference what she thought about the threat, Joly said it was “madness.”

Bob Rae, the Canadian ambassador to the United Nations, offered a harsher assessment in an interview from New York.

“We can’t be buffaloed or bullied by that kind of a tactic,” Rae said.

“He knows if he has any practical bone in his body, he knows what the consequences will be … for him and for his government and for his people.”

Rae spoke after denouncing the invasion in a speech before the UN General Assembly, telling Russia it had a responsibility to play by the international rules that it helped write when it helped create the UN after the Second World War.

“We’re not asking any nation state, any member state to do us a favour. We’re asking them to follow the rules and to follow the law,” Rae said, waving a well-worn blue booklet of the UN’s founding charter. “It means that there are no second-class states in this organization.”

In the interview, Rae said he wanted use his speech to call Russia out as “bully” and an “abuser,” and he also derided the lies that he said Putin and his supporters were now telling the world, including Putin’s justification that he is saving Ukraine from the clutches of Nazis.

“This attempt to smear all Ukrainians and the Ukrainian government or anyone who’s proud of being Ukrainian … to smear everyone as a Nazi is a terrible lie. It’s a horrendous lie,” said Rae.

Asked what he thought of the myriad of pre-invasion assurances by Putin and his diplomats that they had no intention of attacking Ukraine, Rae said: “This government under President Putin is profoundly cynical, and a government that’s drowning in lies and propaganda.

“You know, you can take the boy out of the KGB, but you can’t take the KGB out of the boy.”

Joly also condemned the arrests of Russian citizens who have protested the war in demonstrations across their country.

“We call on Russia to respect the human rights not only of Ukrainians, but also of its own citizens, who by thousands have taken to the streets in protest of this unjust war.”

Finance Minister Chrystia Freeland announced Monday an immediate ban on all Canadian financial institutions from conducting transactions with the Russian central bank.

In addition to that prohibition, Canada is imposing an asset freeze and a dealings prohibition on Russian sovereign wealth funds.

“These measures will cut Russia off financially from the Western world. They will render useless much of the war chest that Vladimir Putin has amassed in his central bank,” Freeland said.

Freeland said she warned Russia’s central bank governor 12 days ago that if the country attacked Ukraine it would be a costly mistake.

“The West’s economic sanctions, I warned, would be swift, co-ordinated, sustained and crushing. They are and they will continue to be. Dictators, very much including the Kremlin’s tyrant, often fail to understand democracies.”

And in a move that was more symbolic than substantive, Trudeau said Canada will ban all imports of Russian crude oil, “which were already negligible.”