Metro Morning

Freeland says she had 'long conversation' with Vladimir Putin at APEC summit last fall

Newly sworn-in Foreign Affairs Minister Chrystia Freeland said Friday she had a "long conversation" with Russian President Vladimir Putin at last fall's APEC summit in Peru, despite being barred from entering that country and no sign of that restriction being lifted.

Foreign affairs minister barred from travelling to Russia under retaliatory sanctions

As Canada's top diplomat, Chrystia Freeland will be managing Canada's relations with the United States and Russia. (Chris Wattie/Reuters)

Newly sworn-in Foreign Affairs Minister Chrystia Freeland said Friday she had a "long conversation" with Russian President Vladimir Putin at last fall's APEC summit in Peru, despite being barred from entering that country and no sign of that restriction being lifted.

Freeland, sworn in as foreign affairs minister earlier this week, answered questions about Russia, as well as U.S. president-elect Donald Trump, on CBC Toronto's Metro Morning.

Freeland is among 13 Canadians sanctioned by Russia in response to sanctions imposed by Canada over the Kremlin's aggression in Ukraine and annexation of Crimea.

Under the sanction, she cannot travel to Russia.

Despite this, she expects to be able to work with Putin and his government, given that as recently as last November the two had a long conversation at the APEC summit in Peru. The minister's office would not offer details about what topics were discussed, or if an arrangement was made to speak again.

Freeland was representing the prime minister on a panel that included the Russian president, she said.

"So I've spoken with the top guy in Russia quite recently and we spoke in Russian and we had quite a long conversation," she said. She did not elaborate on the topics they discussed.

Earlier this week, the Russian Embassy in Ottawa confirmed to CBC News that Freeland is still subject to the sanctions.

Asked Friday whether she expects her travel ban to remain in place, Freeland would only say that the question should be directed to the Russians. She would not confirm reports that Russia has said it will rescind the ban if Canada drops its own sanctions.

But she was unequivocal when asked whether Canada would consider lifting its sanctions.

"We wouldn't look at lifting sanctions. The sanctions were imposed by the previous government but with strong support from us in opposition in response to very clear violations to international law by Russia with the invasion and annexation of Crimea and for a war against Ukraine in the Donbass," she said. "So those sanctions are there for a reason."

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She would not, however, weigh in on recent reports that suggest the United States may be vulnerable to blackmail by Russia over information it may have about Trump.

"I haven't had any briefings on those so I'm not going to comment on such a sensitive security matter," she said.

Canadians made 'quite different' political choice

On the subject of Trump, Freeland acknowledged Friday that Canadians made a "quite different" political choice when they elected a Liberal government just over a year ago than Americans made last November. But she is confident the Trudeau government will be able to work with the incoming Trump administration due to shared economic and security interests.

Asked what goes through her mind when she considers interacting with the blustery businessman who has made headlines for inflammatory language and late-night tweet storms, Freeland said she thinks about "the strong relationship" between the two countries, including the long undefended border and $2.5 billion in daily trade.

Pressed on her thoughts about the president-elect, Freeland replied: "I think about what I just said."

Metro Morning host Matt Galloway noted that she was speaking about a strong relationship without mentioning Trump's name, and inquired whether the incoming administration is "a different beast."

"I think I wouldn't call any head of state of any country a beast," she said, laughing. But then said:

"I think that it is not a surprise, it's very evident for both Canadians and Americans, that in many ways Canadians have made political choices quite different from those made most recently in the United States. We have a prime minister who is proud to call himself a feminist, we have a country that is very proud… to be open to immigration, and that is a very distinctive, Canadian choice," Freeland said.

"Having said that, I'm really confident that the strong security, and particularly economic, relationship between Canada and the United States is mutually beneficial. That's something our government recognizes, it's something Canadians recognize, and it's something I'm confident that the incoming U.S. administration does and will recognize, too."

When Trudeau named Freeland to the post, he noted that he was realigning his cabinet with Trump's approach to politics.

"One of the things we've seen with president-elect Trump is that he very much takes a trade and jobs lens to his engagement with the world in international diplomacy," he said. "And it makes sense for the person who is responsible for foreign relations in the United States to also have the ability and the responsibility to engage with issues such as NAFTA."

Freeland was previously international trade minister.

She would not go into detail about the groundwork the Trudeau government is laying with members of the incoming Trump team, only to say that Canadian officials are developing "personal connections" with their counterparts.

"For all the differences between our countries and our governments, we do have a very strong shared interest in middle class jobs and growth," she said.

Trump is sworn in as president on Jan. 20.

With files from Metro Morning