Evidence of meeting #24 for Foreign Affairs and International Development in the 41st Parliament, 1st Session. (The original version is on Parliament’s site, as are the minutes.) The winning word was ukraine.

A recording is available from Parliament.

On the agenda

MPs speaking

Also speaking

  • Oleh Rybachuk  Chairman, United Actions Center
  • Halyna Coynash  Representative, Kharkiv Human Rights Protection Group
  • Ihor Kozak  Chairman, External Affairs Committee, League of Ukrainian Canadians National Executive
  • Alyona Hetmanchuk  Director, Institute of World Policy

5:10 p.m.

Conservative

Lois Brown Newmarket—Aurora, ON

The European Cup, yes. So there'll be a tremendous number of people travelling to Ukraine.

Is the Ukrainian government not concerned about the reputation they're developing through this and yet still looking to the west to attract that kind of tourism and that tourist dollar? They don't want it there for just a one-time event. They're looking to attract western dollars to come in.

Are they not concerned that a reputation is going to be out there and that it will deter that kind of dollar from coming in—an economic stimulus on its own?

5:15 p.m.

Representative, Kharkiv Human Rights Protection Group

Halyna Coynash

They are concerned. Unfortunately, they are concerned in a rather specific fashion.

Euronews is one channel that.... I don't know if you know it here. It's similar to BBC and Deutsche Welle. Unfortunately, it has a Ukrainian service that is actually positively distorting news, and it is doing so with the knowledge of management. I know this for a fact, because I have been writing to them, complaining, for some time. So that's one thing.

A draft law was brought in quite recently, by one of the most pro-Russian and slightly offensive Party of Regions deputies, that would actually outlaw any.... There was something about xenophobia, racism, and also political messages that would be broadcast before, during, and after football matches, which is quite clearly aimed at Euro 2012. There will be quite a lot of those sorts of....

At the moment, the bill has not passed. I don't know whether it will. If they want it to, it can pass.

Things like that are the bad side of it. I mean, I think they are trying to use their old tactics of simply buying Washington Post supplement material and other things like that. They are actually paying money to throw propaganda at the west, not change the situation.

5:15 p.m.

Chairman, United Actions Center

Oleh Rybachuk

I would just add one phrase in terms of how they explain this to President Yanukovych, who is very authoritative. No one dares, probably, to tell him something he wouldn't like to hear. Their message about Ukrainian diplomats or about the image of the country is, “You're a great guy, but the world knows little about your greatness.”

So they try to compensate for all that by showing him, personally, one viewer, these ads on TV, and they spend money on that. They spend money on lobbyists. They opened funds in Brussels...lobbyist companies in Washington, and they are purchasing huge advertisement spaces to project a pretty image of Ukraine.

In what you've been saying, you are like a naive western democrat hoping for some understanding of values, etc., and it simply doesn't work. It's a different galaxy. This is not mind-compatible culture. Don't try to impose your logic upon them. They are very different animals.

5:15 p.m.

Conservative

The Chair Dean Allison

Thank you very much.

We're now going to start our last round.

We'll start with Mr. Larose, for five minutes.

March 5th, 2012 / 5:15 p.m.

NDP

Jean-François Larose Repentigny, QC

Thank you, Mr. Chair.

Thank you to our witnesses for being here.

As someone who is well-versed in history, I have a deep respect for your country. Despite great suffering, your immense strength remains intact. If ever a country were able to improve its fate, it is indeed yours, in my view.

I would simply like a bit more insight into some of the comments that were made today. Your presentation emphasized your country's complexity. The situation is certainly very complex. There is something that concerns me with respect to Russia, in the event that you achieve your democratic aspirations of a stronger system for your country's future.

We heard about the negative side of those in power, but are there any key members of the current Ukrainian government who support change? That can be extremely useful. I wonder the same thing about Russia.

In the event that you realize your goal, are you worried that, under Mr. Putin, Russia will decide that its goal is not compatible with yours?

5:20 p.m.

Chairman, External Affairs Committee, League of Ukrainian Canadians National Executive

Ihor Kozak

Your question is topical and complex.

When we talk about Russia, I would like to make a distinction. We don't want to associate Russia as a whole with the regime in power today. In the Wednesday hearings you will hear Dr. Andrey Piontkovsky, one of the leaders of the Russian opposition, and I think he will give you a good perspective of the situation in Russia and how it pertains to Ukraine.

I would submit to you that the ordinary Russian does not have any problems with Ukrainian democratic aspirations, Ukrainian independence. Those are common and basic democratic values. The regime in power now, the regime of President Putin, views Ukraine as “near abroad”. It does not imagine its new empire without Ukraine and some other so-called near-abroad countries. But for the average Russian, there is no problem.

Should Russia become democratic—and I believe it will soon—Ukraine will have no problem co-existing with Russia. They will have a good relationship, with lots of trade. Look at Canada and the United States. At one point they were at war, but now they have a great relationship in every respect. So I believe this to be very doable.

As to your second question, about other people within Ukraine's regime who are willing to achieve some positive change, I believe there are probably some. But they're too afraid to speak up. This regime consolidated power quickly after the election, and they put their people in all the key positions. There is a strict chain of command. I believe they're just doing what they're told. They march in this corporate line, and they will not step out. There is not much democratic discussion going on within the current party, region, or the government of Ukraine.

5:20 p.m.

Chairman, United Actions Center

Oleh Rybachuk

Those people might be there, but they are at a middle or low level. The latest trend in Ukraine is to adopt the sense of “family” as it is used in Sicily. The president's family, actually one of the president's sons, is now appointing key personalities, like governor of the central bank—I come from the central bank, and I am ashamed of that—and ministers of finance, defence, and the interior. They're all family people recommended by the son of the president, who actually is a dentist by profession. One year after his father became the president, he joined the 100 richest Ukrainians, so it's quite a profitable profession in Ukraine, dentistry.

5:20 p.m.

Conservative

The Chair Dean Allison

Thank you very much.

We're going to move over to Mr. Van Kesteren.

5:20 p.m.

Conservative

Dave Van Kesteren Chatham-Kent—Essex, ON

Thank you, Chair, and my thanks to all of you for coming here.

As I look at the political spectrum across Russia, the former Soviet Union, and Europe, it's obvious that you have pretty much a captive audience in Europe with regard to natural gas. In the last few years, we've experienced something that I don't think the world has caught onto yet. There's a revolution taking place—it's called shale gas. There are enormous reserves in Greece and in Israel. I'm wondering how you see the shift in power and the alliances that would take place with Greece and Israel. How would you see this affecting your relationship with Europe? How will it change your alliances with Russia? I wonder if anybody wants to comment.

5:25 p.m.

Director, Institute of World Policy

Alyona Hetmanchuk

Today is a very good time to discuss the energy topic in Ukraine. This is the first time in Ukrainian history that we are not able to negotiate with Russia on gas prices. As far as I know, even people who are close to Gazprom in the Ukrainian government, like the Ukrainian energy minister, are becoming proponents of Ukrainian energy independence.

There are negotiations with the Shell company on coming to Ukraine. There are other different negotiations, so I think it is good that Ukraine and Russia can't make a deal today, paradoxically. Ukrainian authorities finally have a very strong incentive to not only make some statements but to implement a program on energy independence.

5:25 p.m.

Chairman, External Affairs Committee, League of Ukrainian Canadians National Executive

Ihor Kozak

It's a very good topic. On the topic of energy, a lot of things are involved in Ukraine and Europe. Those who control the pipeline control a lot of things in Europe. So on the important shale gas projects, there are clearly some environmental and other concerns. I will not get into the technical matters here, but should Ukraine gain at least a certain degree of independence, that would be a very good thing. It would give Ukraine leverage to negotiate with Russia.

The problem is that with the current regime in Ukraine, I haven't seen anything concrete beyond lip service to attract those investments and give them a good environment in which to invest and do business. Hopefully that will change.

If you look at the question of energy, Russia has been trying very hard to take control of the Ukrainian pipeline and the whole energy-related situation in Ukraine. They understand that not only do they control Ukraine, they also control Europe to a certain degree.

I believe the European Union, the European states, have been rather passive on this. I'm not talking here from a Ukrainian or a Canadian standpoint. But I believe that European states, our allies, should be more aggressive in pursuing their own interests and counting Ukraine into their geopolitical interests. It shouldn't be just Germany doing straight dealings with Russia. They should see the benefit of Ukraine also playing a very important role.

If Europe were to play a more important role in the energy independence of Ukraine, it would be beneficial to Europe itself to be less dependent on Russia and control the situation better. That in turn would have a positive effect on the proactive stance of Ukraine, the democratic process in Ukraine, and so on. In this regard there should be more emphasis on European states being more proactive in this and not letting Russia control the situation, which has been the case most of the time.

5:25 p.m.

Conservative

The Chair Dean Allison

Thank you very much.

Thank you, Mr. Van Kesteren.

That's all the time we have for today. I want to thank the witnesses for taking time to be here. We appreciate it.

We'll be meeting again on Wednesday to discuss further new witnesses on Ukraine.

Thank you very much.

5:25 p.m.

Chairman, United Actions Center

Oleh Rybachuk

Thank you.

5:30 p.m.

Conservative

The Chair Dean Allison

The meeting is adjourned.