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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 ukrainian.

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

4:40 p.m.

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

Ihor Kozak

Thank you for your question, sir. It's very topical, clearly. Ukraine and Russia being interconnected for centuries, for some good and some not so good periods.

In terms of Mr. Putin, we will never know all the details about what goes on behind the scenes. After all, he comes from a KGB background and he knows how to orchestrate those things. But I think there are ample examples of what he's been doing over the past number of years to force Ukraine into his sphere of influence. All we have to look at is the turning off of gas supplies to the Ukraine in the middle of the winter. That is blackmailing at its best. Also, there is the additional effect of putting pressure on Europe, and then Europe putting pressure on Ukraine because they have to look after their own economic and geopolitical interests.

I think he was influencing during the Orange Revolution.... He tried to intervene in the elections. I believe he's influencing Ukraine having its fleet in the Black Sea, and there have been a number of incidents where Russian security officers and military officers have violated Ukrainian rights.

On Wednesday you will have Mr. Nalyvaichenko here, who is the former head of the Ukrainian Security Service. I think he will be best at answering questions about those violations.

As Mr. Rybachuk pointed out earlier, now that Mr. Putin is not only de facto but is back in power, he is not making any secret that Ukraine, whom he considers its neighbour abroad, is going to be pulled into his sphere of influence. He wants Ukraine to be pulled away from the west. He's pressuring Ukraine now about the gas pipeline, trying to take assets.

In short, the pressure is immense and I think it goes in multiple directions, multiple factors from economics, to political, to social, and I'm not even talking about agents of influence and so on.

4:40 p.m.

A voice

Religion.

4:40 p.m.

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

Ihor Kozak

Exactly.

The last part of your question is on how far he would go. Obviously, I don't have a crystal ball, but if you look at the example of Georgia—how quickly he started the war, which escalated beyond proportion, notwithstanding the statements from the west and NATO and so on. Considering that he's already in Ukraine with military forces at the Black Sea, I think it would be very easy to set up some sort of a provocation and to even launch a full-scale military invasion, as necessary, if he cannot achieve his desires by other means.

Therefore, I think it's paramount for Canada, its western allies, and NATO to pull Ukraine closer into their sphere of influence and to make sure that this region does not become destabilized.

4:45 p.m.

Conservative

Laurie Hawn Conservative Edmonton Centre, AB

It's a scary prospect.

Mr. Rybachuk, is that the biggest problem that Ukraine and the west has had in negotiating to bring Ukraine potentially into NATO, into the EU? Obviously Russia would have a hard time having NATO on its doorstep. So if we're trying to get Ukraine into the EU, notwithstanding anything else that's going on now, shouldn’t we really be concentrating on negotiating with Russia rather than negotiating with...? And we obviously have to negotiate with Ukraine, but I think negotiating with Russia in some way is probably as important as that.

4:45 p.m.

Chairman, United Actions Center

Oleh Rybachuk

I was there, many times. Actually, I was the person whom Putin personally warned—at the time I was chief of staff to President Yushchenko—at the meeting with Putin, when he said, “We are going to disconnect the gas; we are not bluffing. Just tell your president this is very serious.” So I have my personal experience.

I can tell you one more thing. Mr. Yanukovych has great difficulties in trying to have a good relationship with Mr. Putin. You should have seen Mr. Putin's body language when we discussed Yanukovych. For Yanukovych, today's president, who was campaigning on the slogan of having a better relationship with Russia, the fact that Putin has come back to power as president means nothing good at all. So there will be serious personal problems overall, on top of it.

As for the EU perspective, it is clear to me that we have two factors there. If you remember, we had a good chance after the Orange Revolution, but then there was the French referendum, and the Dutch referendum on the constitution, and then a crisis within the Orange government, with Yulia Tymoshenko, which never ended. That was picked up by opponents of our integration process and that stopped it.

Frankly, I was always saying in Moscow and everywhere else that when Russian diplomats say they welcome our European perspective but they are strongly against NATO...I would tell them it's nonsense. As soon as the EU perspective becomes a reality, we will hear a different story.

You remember the Russian minister of foreign policy, the Russian prime minister, and the president all saying that getting Ukraine into a political association or into a free trade agreement is against Russian legal entities or interests. They clearly observe our integration into the west as a threat to their national interest, and they don't hide it.

Mr. Putin announced that CIS, specifically, Ukraine, and the Eurasian Project was his top priority and he will be concentrating on that. His first statement after getting re-elected was that his priority is CIS, and in CIS, Ukraine is number one.

4:45 p.m.

Conservative

The Chair Conservative Dean Allison

Thank you very much.

We're now going to move back over to the opposition.

Madam Laverdière.

4:45 p.m.

NDP

Hélène Laverdière NDP Laurier—Sainte-Marie, QC

Thank you, Mr. Chair.

I want to thank the witnesses who are with us today. I want to start by apologizing for being a bit late. The media are alive and well in these parts. I don't mean to complain, but they are the ones who delayed me.

I was nevertheless able to hear a good deal of your presentations, which I followed closely. One thing that struck me was what Mr. Kozak said about democracy not being built overnight; it takes time.

As we know, civil society is one of the key building blocks of a healthy and thriving democracy. For that reason, I would like you to tell us about the status of civil society in Ukraine.

Thank you.

4:50 p.m.

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

Ihor Kozak

Thank you, Madam, for your question. I would happily answer your question, but I believe the other three gentlemen and lady we have here at the table are probably more qualified. They're coming straight form Ukraine. They're involved in depth in civic societies in Ukraine. I believe they are more qualified to answer your question.

4:50 p.m.

Director, Institute of World Policy

Alyona Hetmanchuk

Civil society in Ukraine is still much stronger and more active than in neighbouring countries. Paradoxically, two years of President Yanukovych in power gave a second birth to civil society in Ukraine, I would say.

There are strong civil society movements. Oleh Rybachuk represents one of them, the New Citizen movement. There is a lot of solidarity between different civil society activists, between different civil society groups, not only in Kiev but in the Ukrainian regions. I would like to emphasize—I mentioned this—that since the Ukrainian opposition today is not united and is very weak, and is preoccupied with the release of political prisoners from jail, opposition leaders, civil society in Ukraine actually plays the role of opposition. That is a real, influential force, and I think it would be very good if Canada assisted Ukrainian civil society to foster the Ukrainian NGO sector and independent think tanks.

4:50 p.m.

Representative, Kharkiv Human Rights Protection Group

Halyna Coynash

I would really just reiterate that, but also I would say one of the things that my organization, Kharkiv Human Rights Protection Group, and also the Ukrainian Helsinki Group are doing together with New Citizen and so forth is trying to actually consolidate that civil society work and create networks so that people aren't actually.... There are an awful lot of situations where the government has simply stopped programs.

For example, there were very exciting things happening under the old regime, under Yuri Lutsenko, coincidentally with police to try to fight police impunity, to fight violence, torture among the police in the police force. That was all stopped at the government level, and in fact civil society, probably with support from somebody but not from politicians, has managed to actually keep that going to some extent. So you have police stations being visited, and you have monitoring of the violence that's going on in the police force, which is becoming much worse. That kind of network, that kind of activity, is absolutely vital, and any support for it, and also any publicity for it, is just wonderful. It's very important.

Thank you.

4:50 p.m.

Conservative

The Chair Conservative Dean Allison

Did you have a quick comment, Mr. Rybachuk? We're almost out of time. I'll let you have a response.

4:50 p.m.

Chairman, United Actions Center

Oleh Rybachuk

Yes, because I have just come to Canada after finishing a tour of 24 major Ukrainian cities, all over Ukraine, where we organized coordination units of Honesty, the parliamentary movement, and I can tell you that we have been joined by probably more than 150 NGOs. I emphasize that it's all over the country; it's like a nervous system that exists in Google groups, thanks to new media, and that allows us to feel confident, to feel that we are shoulder to shoulder.

My impression is that there is no depression in civil society; people all over Ukraine are ready to act. I would just join my colleagues with what is maybe not a strong request but is strong advice, and that is to support the institutional capacity of civil society networks. This is something that could lead to a new quality of politics in Ukraine. Unfortunately, we have 200 parties, but without major promises or differences between them. But something different can come from the civil society. It is a very healthy process that is going on there nowadays.

4:55 p.m.

Conservative

The Chair Conservative Dean Allison

Thank you very much.

We're now going to move to Mr. Bezan.

Welcome, sir. You have five minutes.

March 5th, 2012 / 4:55 p.m.

Conservative

James Bezan Conservative Selkirk—Interlake, MB

Thank you, Mr. Chair. It's a pleasure to be able to join the committee today.

I want to thank all of the witnesses for their very honest and forthright presentations.

I'm proud to be part of a government that, going back over the last two decades, has seen Canada being such a strong supporter of Ukraine, starting with Brian Mulroney recognizing the independence of Ukraine in 1991. I was proud to be part of the official delegation led by Prime Minister Stephen Harper just a short while ago.

Also, of course, Parliament and the government supported my bill to recognize the Holodomor as a genocide. As we know, the headache that Ukraine suffers from today is a result of that genocide, the Holodomor. What we see here is that ethnic Russians who were brought in to replace all the millions of Ukrainians who were killed are now influencing this whole political process, based upon ethnicity rather than what's good for Ukraine.

I was there to witness the last presidential elections. I was in Bila Tserkva and I was in Kiev and I saw some of the shenanigans that were being played out. I was shocked, along with many of my fellow people from the Ukrainian community who are here today, at how that election process played out. There was a lack of accountability. There was no transparency on who gets on the deputy list. I was looking forward to some of these reforms, especially with regard to having more direct representation, but with the way it has been presented and the way it's going forward, you have to question the constitutionality of the whole process.

I was there with the Prime Minister, along with our colleagues in the back of the room here, who witnessed how the press has already been brought underneath the thumb of the Yanukovych regime. Essentially, when Prime Minister Harper and our group were moving from the tomb of the unknown soldier, from making a presentation of the wreath at the memorial there and then walking a very short distance to the Holodomor memorial site, the local media left. They weren't welcome at that site. Only the Canadian media were there. It was the same thing when we were in Lviv, where the Prime Minister made the strong declaration that the Holodomor was a genocide. No local media were allowed in that room. Canadian media were there. So we could see that influence already.

I have to just ask about this. Canada has a number of agreements with Ukraine, such as the youth mobility agreement. We're negotiating a free trade agreement. We have the financial transaction agreements. I know where leading Ukrainian Canadians stand on wanting to keep engagement. I guess my question to our witnesses here is.... We're complaining about the actions that have been taken in relation to freedom of the press, to human rights, and to a free and open democratic process, yet everybody is saying “no sanctions”.

If you think, at least, in my opinion.... Yanukovych and his entourage are sitting there as cabinet ministers, saying, “Look what we've got away with already: we've got Tymoshenko in jail and we've got Lutsenko in jail, so let's look at who else we can throw in. We're going to take away all our political opposition, we're going to take away freedom of the press, and we're going to take away individual rights and freedoms.” And nobody is saying anything. I say that if you don't take sanctions, you're rewarding them. I'm looking forward to some feedback on that.

4:55 p.m.

Conservative

The Chair Conservative Dean Allison

Go ahead, Mrs. Coynash.

4:55 p.m.

Representative, Kharkiv Human Rights Protection Group

Halyna Coynash

I would be delighted to mention it. I totally agree with you that at the moment, any sort of statement that lets Yanukovych and company think they have gotten away with it is extremely dangerous.

I would just mention that on top of Tymoshenko and Lutsenko, whom everybody mentions, just recently another person, who was a definite candidate for the parliamentary elections, Avakov, from Kharkiv—he was the governor—has been put on the international wanted list and will doubtless not return to Ukraine in order to take part in elections that would have certainly elected him to Parliament.

If that is the way they're going to fight the elections, then clearly engagement is a problem. Yes, perhaps sanctions of some sort are needed. The only problem with sanctions is that sanctions must target the right people.

5 p.m.

Chairman, United Actions Center

Oleh Rybachuk

Target the wrong people.

5 p.m.

Representative, Kharkiv Human Rights Protection Group

Halyna Coynash

The wrong people, yes, you're right—a very good correction.

The wrong people must be targeted, and targeted hard, rather than simply going for the judge. Yes, we know from Nuremberg that obeying orders is bad, but on the other hand, if we know that, for example, the people who passed the sentences against Tymoshenko, against Lutsenko, were carrying out orders, then justice for the murder of Gongadze.... We must actually approach sanctions that will hurt those people, the people who give the orders.

Yes, I think that sanctions may well be required.

5 p.m.

Conservative

The Chair Conservative Dean Allison

That's all the time we have.

We're going to move over to the next round, starting with Mr. Opitz. Welcome, sir.

5 p.m.

Conservative

Ted Opitz Conservative Etobicoke Centre, ON

Thank you, Mr. Chair.

First of all, thank you all for being here. You have come from a long way, many of you. Thank you to the Ukrainian diaspora in Canada, which is unbelievably strong and vocal on this issue. The League of Ukrainian Canadians has certainly been a leader, as has the congress, as has Canadian Friends of Ukraine, and so many others.

I'd like to thank Mr. Kozak for being here, a former brother-in-arms. We're both now retired. He has done tremendous work for Canada at NATO, and was in fact voted one of the top 10 or 25 immigrants to Canada at one time. He has demonstrated his leadership within his community.

I would like to thank you very much for that.

I do have limited time, and I'd like to talk about so many things: energy, the natural resources of Ukraine, the gas, and the ability for Ukraine to control its own future through its natural resources. These are all big questions. A military presence of Russian troops on Ukrainian soil provides volumes to be spoken on those issues. Journalists and academics, as we've seen, can certainly be intimidated and forced to modify their views.

Certainly the impact of Canadian NGOs, some of whom I've just mentioned, from here in Canada and Ukraine has been significant. They have made a tremendous impact.

I'm going to ask a couple of quick questions, and hopefully—because I'd like to get a few through—keep your answers fairly brief.

Just going through the election in the medium and long term, how does Canada help assure fair elections in the medium to long term?

Mr. Rybachuk, perhaps you could answer.

5 p.m.

Chairman, United Actions Center

Oleh Rybachuk

Like Tom Cruise, mission impossible is the shortest answer.

5 p.m.

Voices

Oh, oh!

5 p.m.

Conservative

Ted Opitz Conservative Etobicoke Centre, ON

Okay.

Mr. Kozak, why don't you weigh in there?

5 p.m.

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

Ihor Kozak

I disagree, actually. Probably for the first time I disagree with Mr. Rybachuk.

The mission is possible. Anything is possible. I believe one way—it's a sad word—is engagement. First of all, let President Yanukovych and his entourage know bluntly and clearly that the world is watching, that Canada is watching, and that everything he is negotiating, including the free trade agreement, is on the table, is at stake here. The first and foremost step here is letting them know prior to the election.

Second, I believe it's important to send observers to Ukraine.

Third, I believe it's important to support the democratic organization in Ukraine, because they're on the ground, they know what they're doing, they know the system, they know their way around, and they will be the ones who can tell us the truth. If you look retrospectively at 2004-05, people said it was impossible to prevent falsification prior to the Orange Revolution. I beg to differ, because we did change history at the time.

I believe that if it happened once, it can happen again. We have to keep trying.

5 p.m.

Conservative

Ted Opitz Conservative Etobicoke Centre, ON

Great. Thank you.

Ms. Hetmanchuk, who are MPs in Ukraine? Can an ordinary person run for Parliament in Ukraine? Who is Parliament generally made up of?