Evidence of meeting #38 for Foreign Affairs and International Development in the 43rd Parliament, 2nd Session. (The original version is on Parliament’s site, as are the minutes.) The winning word was ukraine.

A video is available from Parliament.

On the agenda

MPs speaking

Also speaking

Excellency Andriy Shevchenko  Ambassador of Ukraine to Canada, Embassy of Ukraine
Viktor Siromakha  Defence, Naval and Air Attaché, Embassy of Ukraine

3:55 p.m.

H.E. Andriy Shevchenko

I strongly believe that, yes.

What Monsieur Bergeron refers to is the Crimean platform, which should be presented in August later this year. It will be a club of like-minded countries that will work together to make sure that we can restore the territorial integrity of Ukraine.

I can give you one historical example. It's what happened to the Baltic nations. The west never recognized the occupation of the Baltic nations by the Soviet Union, by Russia, and eventually that approach proved to be the right one.

For Canada to join the Crimean platform is to be on the right side of history, especially in that you are already in the position when you strongly support Ukraine in that specific matter.

3:55 p.m.

Bloc

Stéphane Bergeron Bloc Montarville, QC

You talk about like‑minded nations. We know that Ukraine, Russia, France and Germany are negotiating to try to resolve the issue. But we know that President Zelensky has expressed the wish that the United States, the United Kingdom and Canada join the initiatives to reach a peace agreement.

Do you think that Russia would be willing to have the United States, the United Kingdom and Canada join in these efforts?

3:55 p.m.

Liberal

The Chair Liberal Sven Spengemann

Could that be just a brief answer, Ambassador, please?

3:55 p.m.

H.E. Andriy Shevchenko

I believe this would be a very right thing to do, because Canada has very unique knowledge of the situation in Ukraine, and also because of the extraordinary reputation Canada has in the international community. We would be very glad to see Canada as a major participant in the peace process.

3:55 p.m.

Liberal

The Chair Liberal Sven Spengemann

Thank you very much, Mr. Bergeron.

Thank you very much, Ambassador.

We now go to our final questioner in this first round, and it's Mr. Harris for six minutes.

3:55 p.m.

NDP

Jack Harris NDP St. John's East, NL

Thank you, Chair.

Thank you, Ambassador Shevchenko and the other representatives from the embassy. Welcome to our committee.

I note from the briefing we have received from the panellists that Canada's contribution to the Ukraine since 2014, in terms of military support, is the training of 25,000 military personnel and another 2,500 under the military training and co-operation program, plus a significant amount of financial support as well. The friendship between Ukraine and Canada has been noted, with more than one million Ukrainian Canadians.

Have you received similar support from other countries, as well as Canada?

4 p.m.

H.E. Andriy Shevchenko

Yes, we have some other partners who help us, but I think it would be fair to say that Canada is in a very special position because of the amount of your support and because of the decisions that were made and the areas that were picked by Canada to help us with.

4 p.m.

NDP

Jack Harris NDP St. John's East, NL

I'm glad that's appreciated. I know many Canadians have affection for Ukraine and Ukrainian people.

I wanted to follow up on Mr. Bergeron's question about the Crimean platform, which you mentioned. As well, I'm reading about the announcement back in March of support by President Zelenskyy for the National Security and Defence Council of Ukraine, calling for diplomatic, military, economic and other actions to allow Ukraine to recover and reintegrate the Crimean territory. That seems to be tied to some extent to the Crimean platform.

Is there any relationship between these announcements and the Russian build-up that took place in March and April of this year, or are these totally independent actions?

4 p.m.

H.E. Andriy Shevchenko

Yes and no. Yes, of course the Russian military op is a very natural reason for us to increase our efforts in all directions, and no in the sense that we should have done this much earlier.

Crimea is not cowed by the Normandy process. In many senses, Russia is trying to turn Crimea into a tribal land when it comes to human rights situations, from the persecution of the Crimean Tatars to all the other terrible things that have happened. There are not too many things that can be done if we don't change anything.

The Crimean platform is about very practical steps that we can co-operate on. It's about how we can coordinate our sanctions policies. It's about how we can monitor the human rights situation. It's about how we can discuss the security options, and this is how we can get the situation back on the right track.

4 p.m.

NDP

Jack Harris NDP St. John's East, NL

Do you have concerns that the international community's solidarity with respect to the non-recognition of Crimea as part of Russia is not strong?

Canada is certainly fully committed to not ever recognizing that and continuing with sanctions against Russia.

Is that a concern of yours, or is this something that you feel is strong and will not waiver?

4 p.m.

H.E. Andriy Shevchenko

We are quite confident about this support. Actually, Canada has been one of the true leaders of this international coalition. We feel that this non-recognition approach has been followed by the vast majority of countries in the free world. This is the right way to move forward. Our concern is how we can monetize this consensus into very practical steps that we can take together.

4 p.m.

NDP

Jack Harris NDP St. John's East, NL

In the case of your Crimea plan, the Crimea platform, what would you hope that Canada would do if it were to participate in that plan?

4 p.m.

H.E. Andriy Shevchenko

First, we hope that Canada will be represented appropriately at the inaugural summit in August of 2021. There will also be a parliamentary segment or parliamentary dimension of this initiative, and I think that in the months we have left before the event, we should explore how we can get Canadian parliamentarians involved.

There are certain areas where Canada is a true leader in this coalition. The first is the sanctions policy. The second is the human-rights issues. Canada has been known for its very strong position in support of the Crimean Tatars and so on, so we want Canada to have a strong voice in that coalition. I'm absolutely sure it will be much appreciated and will have a huge impact.

4:05 p.m.

NDP

Jack Harris NDP St. John's East, NL

When you talk of the military plans—diplomatic, military and economic actions that Ukraine could take to reintegrate Crimea—can you give an example of the kinds of military actions, or are we talking about a military plan?

4:05 p.m.

H.E. Andriy Shevchenko

I think our obvious priority is to find a diplomatic and political solution to the situation, and that refers to both occupied Crimea and the occupied territories of Donbass.

4:05 p.m.

Liberal

The Chair Liberal Sven Spengemann

Thank you, Mr. Harris.

Thank you, Ambassador.

We will now go to round two.

Welcome, Mr. Bezan. You have the floor for five minutes.

4:05 p.m.

Conservative

James Bezan Conservative Selkirk—Interlake—Eastman, MB

Thank you, Mr. Chair.

Greetings, Ambassador Shevchenko. It's great to see you at the committee here. I appreciate your presentation and the information you circulated ahead of your appearance.

I want to drill down a bit into Operation Unifier. I know one of the concerns we've had for some time was the personal safety of Canadian troops being exposed to COVID‑19. I know Ukraine is suffering a fairly big impact from the pandemic and that about 75% of members of the Canadian Armed Forces have already received their first and second doses of vaccine. I'm wondering how the health is of Ukrainian troops because of the COVID‑19 pandemic, and whether or not that has impacted the training mission of Operation Unifier, not just by Canada, but also the Americans and the Brits, who are also helping train Ukrainian troops.

4:05 p.m.

H.E. Andriy Shevchenko

Even as we speak, there are about 200 Canadians who train Ukrainian soldiers and officers, and I do not have enough words to express how grateful we are for that support. Even under these very difficult circumstances, Canada has managed to continue Unifier, so we have had to adjust some training plans, but overall we can see Unifier continuing to do its very important mission. As of this moment, more than 20,000 Ukrainian soldiers and officers have gone through the training. For obvious reasons, COVID does not stop the war from happening, and we need your support every day.

Mr. Bezan, I would use this opportunity to say that I think, together, we should explore some options as to how we can improve Unifier in the future, after 2022. One of the ways to improve it is to think of how we can go from platoon to brigade level. We can also think of what geographical decisions we should make; there is a lot of joint common interest in the further use of the Shyrokiy Lan training camp in the south of Ukraine, and there are some other things to do.

Overall, it's a major success. It's a two-way learning street, and we greatly appreciate it.

4:05 p.m.

Conservative

James Bezan Conservative Selkirk—Interlake—Eastman, MB

You took my second question, which is about what we can do to actually expand their role. I wanted to find out what that would entail, and also ask about making the mission more long term, because right now it is on an annual renewal and it seems to always get renewed at the last minute, which brings about some anxiety and unnecessary stress, in my opinion.

How does Operation Unifier with the Canadian Armed Forces compare to what the Americans are doing with Ukrainian troops?

4:05 p.m.

H.E. Andriy Shevchenko

I think our men and women in uniform have created a very special spirit of camaraderie. That is not just in the training centres or at the Invictus Games; it's overall.

I had the pleasure of meeting Sarah Heer, who was the recent Unifier commander, and she told me the story of how, at a gas station in Ukraine, someone saw this Canadian chevron on their uniforms and people just rushed to them to try to hug them, because that's the way people wanted to show what we feel about Canada and Canadian support.

To be more serious about this, we have travelled a very impressive distance from the launch of Unifier to this day, and the level of trust is fantastic and incredible. Now we understand so much better how we can make the most use out of this co-operation. We hope to see Unifier troops under the Canadian flag during the Independence Day parade in downtown Kiev in August.

4:05 p.m.

Conservative

James Bezan Conservative Selkirk—Interlake—Eastman, MB

I appreciate that, Ambassador.

What I'm trying to get at is this. I know there are other countries there that are helping train Ukrainian forces as well. I know we're talking about changing Operation Unifier going forward. What are other countries and nations doing, such as the Americans, the British, and I think the Aussies are there and the Poles are helping? Are we seeing changes in their training missions as well, compared to what they've done in the past?

4:10 p.m.

H.E. Andriy Shevchenko

If it's okay, I will invite Colonel Siromakha to step in for a short moment.

4:10 p.m.

Colonel Viktor Siromakha Defence, Naval and Air Attaché, Embassy of Ukraine

Good afternoon, dear friends. My name is Colonel Viktor Siromakha.

Unifier is our best achievement. I would say that compared to Orbital, the U.K. mission in Ukraine, and JMTG-U—the U.S. guys—Ukraine Unifier has the exact capacity to bring to the Ukraine armed forces exactly what we need.

For instance, just recently, on April 14, we had a great session on political issues with Assistant Deputy Minister Peter Hammerschmidt and Ukraine's deputy minister of defence, General Petrenko, on strategic dialogue, its pol-mil consultations regarding not only Unifier issues but helping Ukraine to come to NATO.

We have an extremely good presence of Canadians in Ukraine—Canadian Armed Forces men and women in uniform. They are training our soldiers on multiple levels. Let's say we started Unifier in 2015 as platoon-level training. Now it's already brigade-level training. I would say that's an extremely great achievement for us. We are training not only units, but professionals. For instance, in our training centre, Canadian snipers train Ukrainian snipers. At the same time, they get their professional experience and knowledge from the combat zone.

Also, we are talking not only about the training of officers or soldiers, but about cadets. For instance, now we are working on the future training of Ukrainian cadets on Canadian combat ships when they come to the Black Sea. We are working now in close proximity with the NATO policy department of DND, and we are working on these issues in order to understand how we get proper clearance to bring these cadets on board.

4:10 p.m.

Liberal

The Chair Liberal Sven Spengemann

Colonel Siromakha, I apologize. In the interest of time, let me pause you there.

There will be lots of time to revert to this point in subsequent sessions. In the interest of making sure everybody gets their round, I will have to pause you for the moment and give the floor to Mr. Baker.

Please go ahead, Mr. Baker. The floor is yours.

June 1st, 2021 / 4:10 p.m.

Liberal

Yvan Baker Liberal Etobicoke Centre, ON

Thanks very much, Chair.

Ambassador Shevchenko, Colonel Siromakha and Mr. Liashenko, thank you for being here.

I want to thank the members and the chairs of both the foreign affairs committee and the committee on national defence for organizing this meeting today. I think this is incredibly productive, useful and important.

As chair of the Canada-Ukraine parliamentary friendship group, I see a lot of members of the friendship group and its executive here today. This is an all-party committee of MPs, from all four parties in the House of Commons, who support Ukraine and want to find ways for Canada and Ukraine to work more closely together. I'm proud to see so many of them here today, and I thank them all for their engagement, as well as the other MPs who aren't here today. Thank you for that.

Ambassador, I have had the privilege of travelling to Ukraine on a number of occasions. One of the most memorable moments was as an election observer in the last presidential election. I was posted to eastern Ukraine, in fact to Mariupol, and to election districts along the contact line, where the conflict is taking place. I had an opportunity to meet villagers in election polling stations in that region.

The people I met didn't know I was involved in politics, or in government at all, but many of them, when they found out I was Canadian—because they saw a badge on my chest that had a maple leaf on it—would come up to me and say thank you for all that Canada is doing.

I share this story with you to say two things. One is, many times we hear from the Russian government, and from other propaganda sources, that people in eastern Ukraine want to be part of Russia. Having met those people in eastern Ukraine, I know that nothing is further from the truth. I also share this because I think it's a sign to all of us who are members of Parliament here today that the impact Canada is having is profound and that we need to continue our work.

Ambassador, my first question is for you.

You spoke about NATO integration and the importance of NATO integration for Ukraine. What measures can Canada take to help Ukraine realize its ambition to join NATO?