Thank you very much, honourable Chair.
Distinguished members of the committee, I'm absolutely thrilled and grateful for this opportunity to address you today. I hope that this conversation will also be useful for the gathering of all the information you might want. Once again, I want to thank the members of the committee who visited Ukraine recently. I'm also very happy to greet those I have met here today.
Ukraine and Ukrainians do understand very well the price of democracy. We have learned the hard way over the last couple of years that democracy needs protection, that democracy sometimes requires fighting for, and that it requires nurturing.
I'm sure that everybody in Ottawa knows what exactly it means to maintain democracy and how hard the work is. This is exactly what we as Ukrainian citizens and we as politicians have also learned, and what we're trying to appreciate since independence was regained back in 1991.
Unfortunately, during all these years since Ukraine has regained its independence, quite characteristic of our development has been intrusion by the Russian Federation in different spheres—economic intrusion and political intrusion in the internal development of our country. For every step forward that we have taken, Russia has actually tried to push us two steps back. Its most aggressive behaviour, since 2014, has actually revealed the major goal that Russia has with regard to Ukraine, which is, de facto, to control our country.
Unfortunately, when Moscow started the full-scale war, the hybrid war against Ukraine, it did so to ensure that Ukraine would cede its sovereignty for some type of peace that could be preserved and managed only by the Russian Federation itself. I would like to underline that Ukraine, like all other countries, definitely wants peace on its territory but not at the expense of its territorial integrity, its sovereignty, and its democracy and future.
The three-year period of war during which we have been fighting on our own territory against the Russian Federation has resulted in more than 10,000 civilians and military personnel being killed, more than 25,000 wounded, and more than 1.5 million internally displaced people who are trying to find their lives in other regions and parts of Ukraine. Seven per cent of the Ukrainian territory that has been occupied, and 20% of the Ukrainian economy and industrial output has been halted, destroyed, or just plain stolen.
Since Russia started the war in eastern Ukraine, the fighting has ruined hundreds of residential buildings; cultural, health care, and educational facilities; power grids; water supply grids; and different roads and other infrastructure facilities. The Ukrainian Ministry of Defence estimates that the damage that has been brought upon the eastern part of Ukraine alone is at about $50 billion.
Kremlin aggression is replete with a communications strategy that is trying to disguise the hard truth of the Russian actions. It is supported by tireless social media blogs by Russian propagandists. They are pushing their false narratives through different sources, starting with Twitter, Facebook, other social networks, newspapers, think tanks, and even different political parties in some of the European countries.
The aim of this storm of disinformation is to actually isolate us from partners and allies in the international community, and to present a false picture to the world by insisting that it's an internal civil war as opposed to real aggression of the Russian Federation on our territory. This is something that your close neighbour frequently calls—I think, very rightly—“fake news”.
Throughout 2017, Russia has really tightened its grip on the occupied territories in eastern Ukraine. It has started to recognize the fake documents that are issued by the so-called local authorities. It has established a ruble zone there. It has expropriated Ukrainian public and private enterprises. It has also been further promoting the non-Ukrainian vision of the future of Donbass, starting with the whole idea of so-called Novorossiya and Malorossiya, up to the integration of those areas with the Russian Federation.
Independent sources have shown time and again that Russia's military trains, equips, and manages the illegal armed formations that are fighting back the Ukrainian regular forces on the division line. Moreover, the Russian Federation has managed to integrate those illegal armed formations into its own military chain of command. Therefore, we know and can validate that not only Russian mercenaries, not only some of the Ukrainian citizens who have been living on those territories but also Russian regular troops, both on duty and on so-called vacation, are present and are fighting against Ukrainian armed forces in this region.
Russia has ensured that there is a reliable flow of weapons and military assets crossing the border to support its proxies in the occupied parts of the Donbass. We have already witnessed 69 so-called humanitarian convoys, each containing several dozen lorries. They were definitely not bringing in humanitarian supplies but armaments for their proxies to fight back the Ukrainian troops. Each time we have signed a Minsk arrangement, we have made quite a few attempts to establish ceasefires, and every time we try to establish another ceasefire, it is broken. It is violated by militants who are managed and supported by the Russian Federation.
I have a couple of recent examples. Since June 1, 2017, we tried to establish a ceasefire with regard to International Children's Day. It was violated on just the second day. Then we tried for the so-called “harvest truce” in the middle of summer. It didn't work either. It was violated. Also, we tried to negotiate a ceasefire, and we supposedly reached an agreement that there would be a ceasefire for the back-to-school period of time, starting from August 31, but it was also violated blatantly by the militants from territories not controlled by Kiev.
Humanitarian issues are also complicating the security situation in the region. Unfortunately, at this point we have 405 people on the list of missing persons in Donbass, and we do not see any attempt or readiness by the Russian Federation to actually start the negotiation process with regard to missions that would help us to find those missing persons in non-controlled territories. Moreover, Russia and its proxies continue to block the release process for hostages and illegally detained persons despite the fact that Moscow took these obligations upon itself within the Minsk process. Currently, the militants are holding 152 hostages.
Moreover, Russia keeps at least 15 Ukrainian political prisoners on its own territory, and about 29 on the temporarily occupied Autonomous Republic of Crimea and the territory of Sevastopol.
Two main principles—the immediate release and the use of an “all for all” formula—are totally ignored by the Russian Federation and its proxies. We are determined to ensure that peace in Ukraine and a restoration of territorial integrity are ensured through political and diplomatic means. We spare no effort in fulfilling the Minsk agreements and we remain ready to implement a comprehensive and sustainable ceasefire.
We have already withdrawn heavy weapons and guaranteed access to the OSCE special monitoring mission on the ground to verify our compliance. Unfortunately, the OSCE special monitoring mission does not have access—as was agreed to in the Minsk agreement—to all of the occupied territory, and it does not have access to the 400 kilometres of the Ukrainian-Russian border that is not now controlled by the Ukrainian side.
Despite Ukraine's good faith efforts to implement the Minsk agreements, we have seen that the Russian Federation has deliberately and unilaterally been violating its commitments as a party to the Minsk process. Over the past year, the situation in illegally annexed Crimea has also been deteriorating in terms of the preservation or protection of human rights and in terms of security. Russia has turned the peninsula, which used to be a tourist attraction, into a military base. This has not only increased tensions for us here in Ukraine; it has also increased tensions and threats for the little states and neighbouring states in the Black Sea region.
The occupying regime basically sponsors intolerance to dissent. It imposes illegal rules by pressure, by persecution, by detention, and by abduction. In the most recent report—and I would like to underline this—of the UN High Commissioner for Human Rights, which was just released on September 25, it is noted that multiple and grave violations of human rights by Russia as an occupying state have been recorded. Among them are the large-scale nationalization of private, communal, and public properties; illegal detentions; enforced disappearances and abductions; extrajudicial executions; and other violations of fundamental human rights and freedoms, as well as the altering of the ethnic composition of Crimea by the forceable imposition of Russian citizenship.
One of the most fundamental human rights has been consistently restricted since the occupation of Crimea, and this is the right to freedom of peaceful assembly, as ensured by the Convention for the Protection of Human Rights and Fundamental Freedoms. Since the illegal annexation of Crimea by Russia, 256 participants of peaceful gatherings have been brought to so-called administrative responsibility in Crimea. I will be ready to present just a few examples, maybe in our question and answer period, if I have the chance to do so.
One of the major things that I think need your attention is the fact that in 2016 the Russian Federation outlawed the the Mejlis of the Crimean Tatar people, which is the single highest executive representative body for the Crimean Tatars as an indigenous people living in Crimea. They have outlawed it because of the use of—and I'm quoting here—“propaganda of aggression and hatred towards Russia, inciting ethnic nationalism and extremism in society.”
Moreover, all of the Ukrainian schools have been closed. The Russian Federation is conducting a very strict “de-Ukrainianization” policy in Crimea, these days.
Survival has actually demanded the urgent reconstruction of our military. Back in 2014 we found ourselves with an armed forces that had basically been deliberately destroyed, and that had been infiltrated by Russian agents. At the same time we were fighting back Russian aggression, we had to rebuild from scratch, from the ashes, our armed forces in order to fortify our ability to protect ourselves against the Russian Federation. Holding Russia at bay was necessary for our survival; however, in order to thrive, we do need to reform our country. We have to understand that the changes we are undergoing in the country require a lot of human effort, a lot of intellectual effort, and technical assistance effort, as well as the political will that we are currently demonstrating.
Our democracy and our respect for the rule of law are stronger these days than they have ever been in Ukraine. Our economy, after the prognosis that was given to it as a default prognosis back in 2014 and 2015, finally stabilized at the end of 2016 due to the harsh measures taken by the government, parliament, and the president, with the support of civil society in Ukraine.
Ukraine has set for itself two overarching foreign policy goals: integration into the European political, economic, and legal space, as well as integration into the transatlantic security community. With regard to the first goal, we have the association agreement with the EU, which just recently—September 1—came into full force, and we are viewing it as a map of the further changes and reforms that we will have to conduct in this country. We have the full support of the old government to implement this association agreement for the benefit of our people.
Moreover, I'd like to underline that this year the visa-free regime with the EU has come into force, and the decision to be visa-free was made on the basis of all the reforms that the Ukrainian parliament and government made, with the support of civil society and the president. We have all delivered on our side.
In June, our parliament also clearly stated that another foreign policy goal for the Ukrainian state was NATO membership as a strategic goal for ourselves. We understand that at this point it's our homework to ensure that the defence and security sector is reformed according to NATO standards, and we have the strategic documents that have been adopted according to which we are changing our armed forces, our defence, and our security system.
How can the international community help Ukraine? It would be a terrible mistake for the entire civilized world to think that Russia's focus is exclusively on Ukraine. We have to understand that this aggression does not apply only to Ukraine; it is not focused on or targeted exclusively at our country. For the past year the world has reeled over escalating reports of how Russia supposedly intruded in the 2016 U.S. elections.
I'm sure you've all been following the Russian attempt at a coup d'état in Montenegro. Also, traces of Russian intrusion have been seen in the referendum that was held in the Netherlands against the ratification of the association agreement with Ukraine. This broader Russian strategy is pretty clearly to destabilize the west by focusing on and amplifying the differences and the existing divisions, rather than supporting any one particular political party.
First and foremost, I think for all of us, it's a horizontal issue of national security for each and every state.
Russia will continue to use different tactics to undermine western democracies and to divide the nations, including by purchasing disruptive online political ads.
Russia today poses not only an existential threat to countries like Ukraine, Moldova, or Georgia but also a real threat to the EU, NATO, countries of North America and wider Europe, and, above all, all of the values on which western civilization has been basing prosperity over the last 70 years.
Since 2008, and especially since 2014, it has become increasingly clear that the Kremlin regime in Russia does not think in terms of the win-win world. It sees the west as a clear adversary. It's not because the west has done something wrong or did something wrong, but because this is how the world makes sense to Russia.
We are all aware that Ukraine's response to aggressive actions of the Russian Federation is actually allowing NATO countries to reflect on the situation. It is giving the time to consolidate. It is giving the possibility to realize the common threat and to create a clear road map regarding how to act further. Therefore, I think it's extremely important for NATO to have and to have had that time, and we are, from here, welcoming the NATO forward presence in Europe, Latvia, Lithuania, Estonia, and Poland, and also the tailored forward presence in the Black Sea region.
I would like to take this opportunity to thank Canada specifically for the 200 trainers, armed forces troops who are training our armed forces. I know this is a bilaterally and mutually beneficial experience, because our soldiers and officers are also sharing their experience with your troops. We are also grateful to see that 450 Canadian troops are also stationed in Latvia. We appreciate that as well.
Canada's active role in NATO, sustained by the belief in sharing of the weighty burden of defence, embodies the character and values that today drive the Ukrainian reform agenda. Our faith in this value is the spiritual foundation of our fight against Putin's challenge to individual states, to international alliances, and to the very rules and principles that preserve international security.
The international community must recognize today that supporting Ukraine is an investment in its own security. A persistent and coherent strategy based on common democratic values should continue to be the cornerstone of the west's approach to the Ukrainian issue. It means a united and unified approach by every democratic state opposing Russian aggression. It means no “business as usual”. It means that the international community must reconsider and reframe its relationship with Russia until the pre-war state in Ukraine is restored.
Sanctions are the most efficient diplomatic tools and instruments against an aggressor. The sanctions should be explicitly linked to their specific objectives—de-occupation of Crimea, de-occupation of the Donbass area, restoring of the territorial integrity of Ukraine, and reintegration of the territories of Ukraine in one state. The sanctions should actually be gradually increased if no progress is observed and not lifted until the objectives are met.
In this respect, I'm taking this opportunity to also thank all Canadian parliamentarians for supporting the Magnitsky act. If the west lifts its sanctions against Russia, a few countries might benefit immediately from some increase in bilateral trade turnover, but sanctions relief risks signalling to Russia that destabilizing of the foreign policy, violating of international law, and violating of international rules and procedures are actually acceptable.
Appeasement will only encourage Russia to pursue its journey to undermine democracy and international norms.
Distinguished members of the committee, our fight against Russia is not about our right to democracy or our desire to participate in the rules-based order that defines the international system. This fight is about every single country's right to democracy, to prosperity, and to human rights. It's about every single country's right to make an honest appeal to the international community for support—and to actually receive it. I do hope that we will further ensure and receive the support that we have had to date from Canada, along with your engagement and your clear and objective understanding of the situation on the ground.
Thank you very much.