04/01/2016 05:40 EDT | Updated 04/02/2017 05:12 EDT

Canada Will Benefit By Re-Engaging Russia

The Canadian Minister of Foreign Affairs Stéphane Dion is ready to re-establish diplomatic relations with Russia. During a speech at the University of Ottawa on a new Liberal foreign policy approach, Dion said Canada has no positive consequences for completely cutting ties with Russia. Putting emphasis on following its principles, the foreign affairs minister said Canada will do it in a pragmatic way while re-engaging with Russia.


Foreign Affairs Minister Stephane Dion speaks with the media ahead of the Commonwealths Heads of Government meeting. (Photo: Adrian Wyld/CP)

"Canada's severing of ties with Russia had no positive consequences for anyone," said Dion, "not for Canadians, not for the Russian people, not for Ukraine and not for global security."

"Canada must stop being essentially the only one practicing an empty chair policy with Russia, because by doing so, we are only punishing ourselves," he added.

As a matter of fact, Canada will benefit in re-engaging with Russia on climate change, the Arctic and the war -- or the fight as per Prime Minister Justin Trudeau -- against Islamic State.

"This re-engagement [with Russia] will aim to help Ukraine, help Europe and help stabilize the situation in the centre of the continent. And it will serve Canadian interests by allowing us to talk to Russia on key issues like the Arctic," Dion said during the speech.

That said, Dion confirmed Canada will continue its support to Ukraine by opposing Russia's annexation of Crimea and support of the separatists in Eastern Ukraine. Dion stressed that cutting diplomatic ties with Russia had brought "no benefit to Ukraine."

"But doing so is entirely consistent with re-establishing diplomatic discussions with Russia, just as our allies do. This re-engagement will aim to help Ukraine, help Europe and help stabilize the situation in the centre of the continent. And it will serve Canadian interests by allowing us to talk to Russia on key issues like the Arctic."

The Russian Ambassador to Canada, Alexander Darchiev, said that Russia is ready to re-engage with Canada. He also put a lot of emphasis on keep talking even if both countries have disagreements.

"We have disagreements but we need to talk and that was the message that I brought here when I came as ambassador, we need diplomacy. We can agree to disagree but we can't stop talking," Darchiev said.


Russian Embassy Photo: Kirill Kalinin

Minister Dion also stressed that Canada was talking with Russia even during the Cold War; a period much worse than today's.

"Canada was speaking to the Russians even during the tough times of the Cold War. And now we are not speaking ... because of the former policy, of the former government," Dion said on Parliament Hill. "In which way is this helping Ukraine? In way is it helping our interests in the Arctic?"

Under the conservative government, Canada adopted an "empty chair" policy where no Canadian representative would attend meetings at which Russia was present, after the annexation of Crimea.

"But under the previous government, Canada isolated itself. Across the whole range of multilateral venues, from the OECD and the International Atomic Energy Agency, to various Coast Guard fora and international Fisheries Organisations, Canada has since 2014 voluntarily foregone the opportunity to chair and/or host a number of sessions and working groups in which Russia participates. There is a cumulative cost to our failure to convene, chair, and host multilateral meetings because of Russia's presence," said Dion.

New sanctions against Russia

Canada has once again imposed new sanctions earlier this month against Russia. The Embassy of the Russian Federation in Canada issued a statement saying the new sanctions will only have negative consequences for "Russian-Canadian relations."

"The Canadian government decision to expand existing anti-Russian sanctions is deplorable and runs contrary to its declared intention of shifting to the policy of reengagement on the international arena. Instead of reassessment of failed policies, an unfortunate repetition of a confrontational pattern has occurred which will surely have negative consequences for Russian-Canadian relations. This is not how diplomacy is done and it does not pave the way to an honest and mutually respectful dialogue."

By re-engaging in diplomatic talks, Russia and Canada will have the ability to discuss those sanctions and work on possible outcomes that could benefit both countries.

I believe that imposing new sanctions was a bad move from the Liberals. I understand many Canadians sees Russia as a potential threat but the new sanctions will further degrade our relationship.

When Stéphane Dion said he was considering re-engaging in talk with Russia, he should've delay further sanctions and start discussions with the Embassy of the Russian Federation in Canada.

Reassessing Russia's intervention in Syria

The West was forced to reassess Russia's intervention in Syria. First denounced, the Russian air campaign was vital to eliminating many Islamic State fighters and positions. Earlier this week, the Russian air strikes also contributed to the success of retaking the historic city of Palmyra by the Syrian military.

Russia's intervention in Syria was frowned upon at first but Putin's decision to withdraw the bulk of its forces from Syria signifies limited objectives. Able to declare "mission accomplished," Russia and the U.S.-led coalition worked together in bringing a ceasefire to the war-torn country. The ceasefire was in fact a Russian objective from the start.

"In Syria, the Canadian policy of limited engagement with Russia has severely impaired Canada's ability to influence the peace talks," said Dion.

Canada's contribution to Syria was reassessed and more ground troops will be involved in training local fighters against Islamic State. However, the Liberals' decision to withdraw the CF-188 Hornets from the coalition further degraded its influence to the decision table. By doing so, Canada was not only impaired due to its non-existent diplomatic relations with Russia but also by its limited participation to the U.S.-led coalition.

After cutting diplomatic ties with Russia two years ago, Canada will once again have the ability to discuss matters with another major player in the Arctic and a possible valuable ally in the fight against terrorism.

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