Time for Canada to wage peace in Ukraine

The war in Ukraine can continue for years. Or it could escalate into something far worse. Or it could end in the near future.

Canada has limited influence over its direction, but what influence it has should be used to support, rather than undermine, peace negotiations.

The Italian, French and German governments have all recently expressed the importance of a negotiated settlement to the war. Calling for “a cease-fire … as soon as possible,” Italian Prime Minister Mario Draghi released a four-point peace plan last week. It calls for a cease-fire to facilitate evacuations, which would be followed by Ukrainian neutrality, then autonomy for disputed territories and a peace deal between the EU and Russia exchanging Russian withdrawal for an easing of sanctions.

US and UK officials, on the other hand, have openly spurned negotiations. They have said the war will end with Russia’s “defeat” and that Vladimir Putin “must lose.”

With the Trudeau government and opposition parties supporting the US-UK axis, there’s barely any discussion about what Canada could due to spur negotiations and end the fighting. In fact, to the extent that there’s public criticism of the government’s policy on Ukraine/Russia it is mostly to demand Canada take even more aggressive measures.

At a foreign affairs committee meeting earlier this month Senator Yuen Pau Woo broke the mold. After Melanie Joly called for winning the war, which she defined as a total Russian withdrawal from Ukrainian territory, Woo asked: “what are we doing to try to broker an early end to the war so that we can reduce human suffering? What are we doing to bring about peace, either directly with Russia or indirectly through interlocutors?” Joly’s response was vague, so Woo pressed the matter asking, “I haven’t heard what we’re doing to wage peace?”

Begrudgingly, Joly mentioned that Canadian officials had raised negotiations during their discussions with officials from other countries. A few days later, however, Joly explicitly contradicted this position.

What could Ottawa do to support a negotiated end to the war? First off, raise the subject publicly. Canada should have released a statement supporting UN Secretary-General Antonio Gutierrez’s visit to Kyiv and Moscow and should be calling for a follow-up visit. More directly, Joly should seek a meeting with her Russian counterpart Sergei Lavrov to discuss possible diplomatic solutions to end the fighting.

Instead, Joly declared, “my goal is to make sure that I am not sitting at the same table as Lavrov, nor the prime minister [with Vladimir Putin]”.

Canadian officials could tell Volodymyr Zelenskyy that they disagree with British Prime Minister Boris Johnson pressuring the Ukrainian president to stop negotiations. With Deputy Prime Minister Chrystia Freeland reportedly speaking daily with top Ukrainian officials there are many opportunities to communicate Canada’s desire for negotiations.

To strengthen the diplomatic track Ottawa should offer a carrot to Moscow. They could announce that sanctions and asset seizures will be lifted if Russia withdraws its troops or as part of a peace treaty. Instead, they’ve announced legislation to seize Russian assets, which largely undercuts any antiwar logic they could have. In theory asset seizures are a form of leverage to pressure individuals/organizations/Kremlin to press for/implement policy changes but once the assets have been seized there is little incentive to seek change.

Prior to Russia’s illegal invasion Ottawa should have pressed Kyiv to follow through with its commitments under the Minsk peace accords, which granted autonomy to the eastern Donbas region. While it’s lost much of its relevance, Minsk II remains a point of discussion.

Ottawa should state clearly that Canada opposes Ukraine’s adhesion to NATO and believes that country should remain neutral, which Zelenskyy effectively agreed to in April. Canada should not have pushed to expand NATO throughout eastern Europe or have Ukraine join the alliance (a position Joly recklessly repeated in January.)

Rather than support negotiations, the Canadian position has been to pour in evermore deadly weaponry (last week they announced that 20,000 artillery shells had been sent). Ottawa clearly prefers to prolong the fighting than to seek compromise.

Considering the media environment, it is not easy time to call for negotiations to end the war. But, it is essential. Antiwar forces need to press the Trudeau government to wage peace.

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