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Why Canada summoned Russia’s ambassador to complain — again


Why Canada summoned Russia’s ambassador to complain — again

Canada summoned and scolded Russia’s ambassador in Ottawa on Monday for the fifth time since the outbreak of war in Ukraine, the Star has learned.

A government official said Tuesday that Oleg Stepanov was called in for a meeting with Global Affairs Canada officials after a provocative Twitter post accusing Ottawa of believing Ukrainian “disinformation” — specifically the “Myth” of the Holodomor, a man-made famine in 1932 and 1933.

In 2008, an act of Parliament under Stephen Harper’s government declared that the fourth Saturday of each November would be recognized as Ukrainian Famine and Genocide (“Holodomor”) Memorial Day, to mark an ignominious act “deliberately planned and executed by the Soviet regime under Joseph Stalin to systematically destroy the Ukrainian people’s aspirations for a free and independent Ukraine.”

This year, that day fell on Nov. 26, and held special meaning amid Russia’s invasion of Ukraine, which the Canadian Parliament has also recognized as an act of genocide.

“It’s a shame the consecutive governments in Canada have chosen to believe in this disinformation not bothering to check the facts or consult serious researchers,” the Russian embassy wrote on Nov. 30 in relation to the Holodomor.

“By blindly supporting this narrative fed by the ultra-nationalist part of Ukrainian diaspora (sic), Ottawa also facilitates in further spreading anti-historical lies, to name it bluntly. It is inhumane and insulting to the memory of all victims of the 1930s Famine.”

Maeva Proteau, a spokesperson for Canada’s Global Affairs Minister Mélanie Joly, told the Star that Ambassador Stepanov was summoned to challenge the Russian government and “set the record straight.”

Proteau said the facts of the Holodomor were for decades hushed up and hidden away by authorities in the Soviet Union, and President Vladimir Putin’s regime continues to attack as unpatriotic attempts within Russia “to condemn these Soviet crimes against humanity.”

“It is therefore no surprise that crimes of the past are now being repeated by President Putin’s regime, which also seeks the destruction of the Ukrainian nation and identity,” she said in a written statement.

The Russian embassy told the Star in a written statement that Stepanov expressed to Canadian officials the “historical facts that Russia and Kazakhstan were victims of the same tragedy.”

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“The Ambassador called on Prime Minister Trudeau’s cabinet and Global Affairs Canada to find the courage to recognize the people of Russia and Kazakhstan as victims of hunger next time they come out with statements on the so-called Holodomor.”

The Russian tweet was posted at a time when Germany, Romania, Moldova and Ireland were all deciding to recognize the Holodomor as a genocide despite pushback from Moscow.

Russian Foreign Ministry spokesperson Maria Zakharova said that the famine was due to “an extremely bad harvest.”

In a longer statement accompanying the offending Twitter post, the Russian embassy wrote that “no one objects” to the fact that the territory of Ukraine was hardest hit by famine, but argued that the “overwhelming majority of those victims were ethnic Russians” living in grain-producing regions of eastern and southern Ukraine.

But it said that parts of western Ukraine that also suffered from starvation in the 1930s were part of Poland at the time, “so mass hunger physically could not be Bolshevik-masterminded there.”

According to figures published and mapped by the Ukrainian Research Institute at Harvard University, Soviet Ukraine lost 4.5 million people to famine in between 1932 and 1934, including 3.9 million deaths — 13 per cent of the total population — and 600,000 miscarriages and stillbirths.

The diplomatic dressing down by Canada comes on the heels of a similar summons over an inflammatory Russian embassy tweet on Nov. 24 that featured a crossed-out rainbow flag and a message that was deemed to be “an attack on basic human rights” by Liberal Sports Minister Pascale St-Onge.

The post, which coincided with the adoption of a Russian law prohibiting LGBTQ “propaganda,” read: “It is all about family. Family is a man and a woman and children.”

In total, Monday’s diplomatic scolding marked the fifth time since the invasion of Ukraine began that Russia’s ambassador has been called to account for the actions of his country and his embassy.

Stepanov was summoned to meetings twice with Global Affairs Minister Mélanie Joly herself in order to hear about Canada’s opposition to the start of war and, later, the Russian military’s targeting of civilian infrastructure in Ukraine.

He was also hauled in to hear from Canadian officials in response to the discovery of alleged Russian atrocities in the liberated city of Bucha last spring.

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