Q&A: Liberal Government should meet Putin head-to-head, says Manitoba MP 2 years after Crimea referendum
March 16 marked 2-year anniversary of referendum that made Crimea a part of Russian Federation
Conservative critics are calling on the Liberal government to maintain a hardline position with Russia, two years after the referendum that made the Ukraine territory of Crimea a part of the Russian Federation.
James Bezan, Conservative Selkirk-Interlake-Eastman MP and Conservative defense critic, has been a vocal supporter of Ukraine since the Russian invasion. In 2014, Bezan was one of 13 Canadians Vladimir Putin's government banned from traveling to Russia.
Bezan spoke to CBC Radio Noon host Janet Stewart on Thursday about whether the Liberal Government is taking the right approach in dealing with Russia.
The two-year anniversary of the referendum was on Wednesday.
Janet Stewart: How has Canada's stance on the Russian occupation of Crimea changed since the Liberal Government assumed office?
James Bezan: We have a number of concerns of the nuanced messaging that's coming from the Trudeau government. We know that they want to engage in discussions with Russia. Russia is calling for a normalized relationship with Canada. They considered the Conservative government as being Russia-phobic, which isn't the case at all. We've always been very clear that not one square inch of Ukraine should ever be recognized as Russian territory.
What do you say to the folks who say the people who lived in that region wanted to be part of Russia again?
The Russian Human Rights Council saw that the so-called referendum was a complete hoax — that it was done at gun-point. We know that the Crimean Tatars as well as ethnic Ukrainians in Crimea did not participate in the vote. Voter turnout was well under 50 per cent. There was no official voters' list. There was a lot of documentation of ballot box stuffing. There's no way Crimea would have chosen this route.
How hopeful are you that Crimea will one day again be part of Ukraine?
We have to keep a strong line. At no place should Canada, United States or European allies reduce any of our sanctions. We have to continue to advocate for more isolation of the Russian Federation until they start acting in a responsible manner and as a trusted partner on global affairs.
They have to honour the Minsk peace agreements, take all their heavy artillery out of eastern Ukraine, respect Ukraine's international boundaries and that includes Crimea. Only then can we have a proper engagement over the future of Crimea.
Stephen Harper took a strong stance and it still didn't make a difference to Vladimir Putin. What strategy works to get to Putin?
Stephen Harper's strong position did make a difference. Harper said we will never recognize Crimea as anything but Ukraine territory. He confronted Putin head on at the G20 summit in Brisbane, Australia when he clearly asked Putin to get out of Ukraine. It is that type of strong talk that actually makes Putin stand up and listen. We did see him slow down his aggression within the Donbass. If we meet him head-to-head, it seems that he's prepared to take a step back himself.
The thing that Putin wants the most is the sanctions to get dropped so he can again profit from his behaviour within Russia, which is despicable and a violation of human rights on an ongoing basis and take advantage of our democracies and our financial systems.
This interview has been edited for clarity and length.