Politics

Russia threatens retaliation over latest round of Canadian sanctions

Russia is threatening to retaliate after Canada quietly imposed additional sanctions on Russian nationals over the annexation of Crimea and Moscow's ongoing support for separatists in eastern Ukraine.

Ukrainian interior minister calls new sanctions over Crimea 'a very a positive step'

Russia's President Vladimir Putin annexed Crimea in 2014 following the months of unrest that drove out Ukraine's Russia-friendly president. (Sergei Karpukhin/Pool/Associated Press)

Canada has quietly imposed additional sanctions on Russian nationals over the annexation of Crimea and Moscow's ongoing support for separatists in eastern Ukraine.

The new measures, including asset-freezing and a prohibition on business dealings, were passed by the Liberal cabinet on Nov. 28 and released, without much fanfare compared with the former Conservative government, on the Global Affairs Canada website the same day.

There are 15 individuals named in the regulation, which was to be formally posted Thursday in the Canada Gazette, the government's official publication of record.

Six of the people are members of Russia's national assembly — known as the Duma — who were elected from Crimea in September in the first vote since the takeover.

Crimean Tatars cast their ballots at a polling station during a parliamentary elections in Bakhchisarai on Sunday, Sept. 18, 2016. (Maxin Voronov/Associated Press)

It is the second time the Liberal government has tightened sanctions in relation to the eastern European crisis which erupted in the spring of 2014.

The last round of measures were imposed in August of this year.

It is significant because the Liberals have made diplomatic re-engagement with Russia a cornerstone of their foreign policy since being elected last year, much to the private — and sometimes public — dismay of the Ukrainian government.

Arsen Avakov, Ukraine's interior minister, was the latest to warn the Trudeau government about Moscow in closed-door meetings with two senior Liberal ministers.

We rely on civilized countries to support Ukraine in this situation and, of course, we rely on Canada.- Arsen Avakov, Ukraine interior minister

"We rely on civilized countries to support Ukraine in this situation and, of course, we rely on Canada," Avakov told CBC News in an interview this week.

"I have heard that Canada should start talking with Russia and have friendship with Russia," he said. "The issue is not about being kind to [Russian President Vladimir] Putin and giving him cookies, it is about demonstrating a firm position."

The latest sanctions are "a very a positive step," Avakov said.

Ukraine interior minister Arsen Avakov met with Canada's Public Safety Minister Ralph Goodale on Monday. (Murray Brewster/CBC News)

'Unfriendly action'

The additional measures may have been discreet and garnered little public attention in Canada, but they have prompted a fierce reaction from both the Kremlin and the media in Moscow.

Russian Foreign Ministry spokeswoman Maria Zakharova says her country regrets Canada's decision and "this unfriendly action" will not go unanswered.

"These irresponsible actions by Ottawa only hinder the possible normalization of bilateral co-operation, including at the United Nations, where Canada has been trying to receive the status of a non-permanent UN Security Council member," Zakharova said in a statement.

These actions also cast doubt on the sincerity of the Canadian government's proclaimed intentions to forge a constructive dialogue with Russia.- Maria Zakharova, Russian Foreign Ministry

"These actions also cast doubt on the sincerity of the Canadian government's proclaimed intentions to forge a constructive dialogue with Russia."

The Russian news agency TASS interviewed Ruslan Balbek, Crimea's former vice-premier and one of the people named in the new regulations.

The new sanctions do not surprise him, he says, and are meaningless because he claims to have no bank accounts or real estate in foreign countries.

"My whole life and work are focused on Russia. I have little interest in what is located outside Russia, especially if it is located overseas," Balbek told TASS on Tuesday. "The fact that I have been included in another sanctions list is of no importance for the citizens of Russia."

'Consistent' message

Dominique Arel, an expert in Ukrainian affairs at the University of Ottawa, said he sees no contradiction in the imposition of further sanctions while expressing the desire for a more constructive relationship with Moscow.

"It send the message, on this fundamental issue, that Canada is consistent — consistent with previous policy and consistent with Western policy," Arel said.

When Foreign Affairs Minister Stéphane Dion met with his Russian counterpart, Sergei Lavrov, last July, he made it clear, "Canada will not contemplate lifting sanctions until Russia implements its commitments under [the] Minsk [peace agreement] in full," according to briefing notes obtained by CBC News under the Access to Information Act.

But NDP foreign affairs critic Hélène Laverdière says the sanctions list is not complete and the Liberals have failed to add two high-profile members of Putin's inner circle to the list.

Russian businessman Vladimir Yakunin, who has strong ties to Putin, has been blacklisted by the U.S. but not included on Canada's sanction list. (Ivan Sekretarev/Associated Press)

She is referring to Vladimir Yakunin, the powerful former head of Russian Railways, and Igor Sechin, the head of Russia's state-owned energy company Rosneft — both of whom have been blacklisted by the U.S.

It's believed the previous Conservative government did not sanction either of them because of their business ties in Canada, and it appears the Liberals have made the same calculation.

Arel says he has seen little difference in the relationship with Russia since the Liberals took over, with the exception of the current government's softer tone. He points to the muted release of the latest sanctions as an example.

"It kind of fell under the radar," he told CBC News. "Under the Harper government it would have been — how can I say? — far more visible."

About the Author

Murray Brewster

Defence and security

Murray Brewster is senior defence writer for CBC News, based in Ottawa. He has covered the Canadian military and foreign policy from Parliament Hill for over a decade. Among other assignments, he spent a total of 15 months on the ground covering the Afghan war for The Canadian Press. Prior to that, he covered defence issues and politics for CP in Nova Scotia for 11 years and was bureau chief for Standard Broadcast News in Ottawa.

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