12/22/2017 14:46 EST | Updated 12/22/2017 14:50 EST

Watch Out For Russia Meddling In Canada's Elections, Financial System, Diplomats Warn

Officials are looking into reports of spying during a PMO meeting.

Sean Kilpatrick/CP
Prime Minister Justin Trudeau meets with Ukrainian Prime Minister Volodymyr Groysman in his office on Parliament Hill, in Ottawa on Oct. 31, 2017.

OTTAWA — Foreign Affairs Minister Chrystia Freeland planned to use a Friday meeting in Ukraine to get more information on reports that a man arrested there this on suspicion of spying for Russia sat in on a meeting in the Prime Minister's Office this fall.

But Canadian officials refused to say how seriously they take the incident, and that while Freeland would be raising it, it's not planned to be a major topic of discussion.

Multiple media outlets say Stanislav Yezhov worked as a translator during Ukrainian Prime Minister Volodymyr Groysman's visit to Canada earlier this year, and was part of meetings with Prime Minister Justin Trudeau.

Yezhov also travelled with Groysman on trips to the U.S. and U.K.

Ginnette Riquelme / Reuters
Foreign Affairs Minister Chrystia Freeland delivers a message in Mexico City on May 23, 2017.

But even Groysman is now accusing him of working for a "hostile state," following Yezhov's arrest this week on accusations he's a long-time Russian agent who has been passing that country information through electronic channels, according to translations of statements from Ukraine's security service and Groysman's social media accounts.

Canada does have several things to worry about when it comes to the potential for Russian meddling, said Andrzej Kurnicki, Poland's ambassador to Canada, in a recent interview.

Among them: attempts to use advanced technology to disrupt its financial system, including using misleading information to affect markets and technological tampering with information, including stored data.

The underlying reason for such an attack, said Kurnicki, would be to sow uncertainty, particularly in Canada's natural resources sector so the turmoil would increase the value of Russia's energy assets on world markets.

Earlier: Defence minister blasts propaganda targeting Canadian troops in Latvia

"The price of oil and gas tends to increase when there is uncertainty in the economy. A cyberattack can also increase the price of oil and gas, and Russia is very dependent on (its) supply of gas to the western world," he explained.

Steven Poloz, the Bank of Canada governor, has said the fear of a cyberattack on the financial sector is the one thing that keeps him awake at night above all other concerns.

Karlis Eihenbaums, the Latvian ambassador to Canada, said that in addition to the ongoing controversy over potential Russian meddling in the U.S. presidential campaign in 2016, there have been allegations of the Kremlin inserting itself into elections in Sweden, Denmark, France and Germany.

"I would not be surprised that the same ideas in one or another way will be tried here when the elections come," he said.

Elections Canada has said it is taking steps to safeguard the integrity of Canada's voting system.

'Hybrid war' on the West

One retired senior Canadian Forces officer says the government isn't taking the threats posed by Russia's so-called "hybrid war" on the West seriously enough.

For the past decade, Russia has tried to build its diplomatic, information and military branches into "instruments of national power" to offset a weakness in its economic sector, said Brett Boudreau, a retired colonel whose postings included NATO headquarters in Brussels.

"They have made brilliant strategic investments in those three fields that are reaping returns far in excess of the cost," he said.

That includes using the Kremlin-controlled Russian news channel, RT, which is proven its worth "in terms of influencing political and public discourse."

Boudreau said Canada's current foreign policy doesn't appear ready to meet the Russian threat.

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"This focused and disciplined approach to realizing Russian national interests — often based on calculations looking through the prism of national security — is pretty much the antithesis of Canada's Charmin-like soft power priorities like gender equality, protection of civilians in conflict, UN peacekeeping conferences (and) environmental protection."

Freeland herself has been the target of Russian attacks. She is banned from travelling to the country because of past writings in her previous career as a journalist that were critical of Russian President Vladimir Putin.

She is in Ukraine for talks with officials on their ongoing struggle with Russian military action in their eastern region, and the fallout of Moscow's 2014 annexation of Crimea.