Op-ed

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Can Canada be an honest broker on Ukraine?

by Andrew Rasiulis

The Hill Times
October 12, 2016

It was noted in some circles last month that Prime Minister Justin Trudeau was not invited to participate in talks held on the margins of the G20 meeting focused on resolving the political and military impasse in eastern Ukraine. This meeting included the leaders of the United States, France, Germany, Ukraine, and Russia under the informal diplomatic umbrella of the Normandy Group (first formed in June 2014 at D-Day anniversary gathering).

Murray Brewster wrote an excellent article for the CBC on Sept. 11, examining the background for Canada’s absence, with thoughtful analysis by professors Piotr Dutkiewicz and Dominique Arel. The upshot being Canada has been too closely identified with the political position of the government in Ukraine and too tight with U.S. positions on Ukraine to distinguish itself as a potential honest broker in finding a political/diplomatic solution to the conflict.

Canadian objectivity on the Ukraine file needs to be restored if Canada has the aspiration to return to its traditional role of honest broker and to thereby make a diplomatic contribution to finding a peaceful settlement. Being objective does not mean that Canada must relinquish its values or interests. On the contrary, Canada has traditionally fostered its values and interests through a measured objectivity that has enabled our diplomats and soldiers to act in an impartial manner to negotiate and resolve conflict.

This was the pattern set after the Second World War in which Canadian foreign and defence policy was firmly rooted within the Western camp during the Cold War. Canada made its valued military contribution to the NATO and NORAD alliances, as it continues to do today.

However, being a strong backer of its values and interests as represented by these alliances, as well as its close bilateral relationship to the U.S., did not prevent Canada from playing a valued honest-broker role in the context of the UN or other international fora such as the Conference on Security and Cooperation in Europe, now renamed the Organization for Security and Co-operation in Europe (OSCE). Canadian diplomats and soldiers were often sought after to play the helpful-fixer role in finding solutions to security issues of the day.

Canada still has that opportunity today, whether on the larger international scene or specifically the Ukraine-Russian conflict. The current peace settlement process under the Minsk II arrangement agreed in February 2015 is stalled over the reluctance of the Ukrainian government to hold discussions on constitutional reform that would allow greater autonomy for the predominately Russian-speaking rebel-held areas. Both Ukrainians and Russians have agreed under Minsk on reforms and to confirm the package through local elections in the rebel-held areas under Ukrainian law.

Subject to this constitutional reform agreement, all sides agree that the Ukrainian authorities would retake control of the Ukrainian border. Canada has the opportunity to engage itself as an honest broker and to bring to the negotiating table our extensive experience in the evolution of federalism and the peaceful accommodation of ethnic and linguistic diversity. Canada is diplomatically well placed to engage itself in the process under the auspices of the OSCE, which continues to play a supporting role to the Normandy Group and the Minsk process.

Andrew Rasiulis is retired from the public service and is now a freelance consultant with Andrew Rasiulis Associates Inc. He is also a fellow at the Canadian Global Affairs Institute.

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