Canada made a point of reopening its embassy in Ukraine. Why?
Prime Minister Justin Trudeau’s decision to reopen the Canadian embassy in Kyiv on Sunday sends a signal to Russia that Canada is steadfast in its support for Ukraine, the federal government says.
Canada is slowly re-establishing its diplomatic presence in Ukraine’s capital nearly three months after shuttering its embassy when Russia began mobilizing troops along the Ukrainian border.
Now entering its 11th week, the Kremlin’s forces have made little to no recent progress in their offensive, as Russian President Vladimir Putin on Monday sought to justify the war on Victory Day, the country’s biggest patriotic holiday.
“By resuming diplomatic operations in Ukraine and flying the Canadian flag over the streets of Kyiv once again, we are sending a clear message to Ukraine and its people: we believe that Ukraine can and will win this war, and Canada stands with the people of Ukraine in the face of Russian aggression,” said Adrien Blanchard, a spokesperson for Foreign Affairs Minister Mélanie Joly’s office.
Joly, who joined Trudeau during his surprise visit to Ukraine, told CBC’s “Power and Politics” on Monday that Putin’s invasion “is a failure and will continue to be a failure.
“What needs to be done is we need to reinforce Ukrainian forces on the ground,” she said.
Reopening the Canadian embassy is part of that work, Blanchard told the Star.
“Being on the ground will enable our ambassador and staff to further support Ukraine’s diplomatic efforts and contribute to the reconstruction of Ukraine, including co-operating with (non-governmental organizations) and the Ukrainian military to assist in de-mining war-torn areas,” he said.
Canada’s ambassador to Ukraine, Larisa Galadza, is now working with a small team to gradually restore operations in the region after embassy staff were temporarily relocated to the western city of Lviv — and later, Poland — at the onset of the invasion.
The embassy will not be able to immediately provide a full range of services; consular and immigration matters, for example, will still be provided out of Poland and other European cities for the time being.
Reopening the embassy is also unlikely to speed up Canada’s processing of visa applications from those seeking to enter this country.
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“The Canadian embassy does not take visa applications. IRCC had to utilize our existing temporary resident visa processes, networks and infrastructure to bring as many Ukrainians to Canada as possible, as well as prioritize any Ukrainian applications within our system,” said Aidan Strickland, a spokesperson for Immigration Minister Sean Fraser’s office.
Strickland said Immigration, Refugees and Citizenship Canada was able to process most applications it had received “within the 14 day service standard” while the embassy was closed, partly through deploying extra staff, supplies and equipment to regions surrounding Ukraine.
Even so, the decision comes as Ottawa faces continuing criticism over its failure to rapidly roll out several measures intended to help fleeing Ukrainians, including a pledge to offer charter flights to those hoping to settle in Canada.
“There are logistical issues that need to be sorted out. Not every individual who applied is where they applied at the time, so now we’re co-ordinating where everyone is and who wants to come so we can facilitate the departure points and landing points,” Transport Minister Omar Alghabra told reporters Monday.
Opening the embassy’s doors could help smooth over some of those issues, said Jane Boulden, an international relations expert at Queen’s University and the Royal Military College of Canada.
“It just makes life easier in logistical terms to have staff on site to deal with a whole range of things that are happening with respect to bilateral relations between the two countries … anything from refugees and how they are being dealt with, to sanctions, to providing military support,” Boulden said.
“It makes a huge difference to have people on the ground in the country, making connections one-on-one, rather than being in Poland.”
Canada’s move follows those of many European nations which had already restored their diplomatic presences in Ukraine. It also sends a message, Boulden said, that Ukrainian forces have succeeded in making such a move possible.
“It’s sending the signal to Ukraine, as well as other international actors that in our judgment … we can do this in a secure and safe manner,” Boulden said.
“The focus of the Russian strategy very openly to the east and south means that other parts of the country feel a lot more safer than they did a couple of weeks ago.”
With files from The Associated Press
Raisa Patel is an Ottawa-based reporter covering federal politics for the Star. Follow her on Twitter: @R_SPatel
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