Trudeau won't commit to extending Ukraine training mission beyond 2017
Poroshenko and PM duck questions about allowing export of Canadian-made weapons to Ukraine
Ukraine's president made a personal appeal Monday for Canada to extend its military training in the western region of the embattled country, but Prime Minister Justin Trudeau was noncommittal as he and Petro Poroshenko celebrated the formal signing of a free trade deal between their countries.
The two leaders also ducked questions about whether Canada was prepared to put the eastern European nation on a list of countries where it's permissible to export Canadian-made weapons.
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Going into the meeting, Trudeau was expected to lean on Poroshenko to do more to live up to the Minsk 2 accord, which was supposed to stop the fighting with Russian-backed separatists in two rebellious eastern districts.
He came out sounding conciliatory, noting the "extremely important and difficult steps" taken by Ukraine's parliament and institutions to implement the peace deal.
"It's also clear on the security side of the Minsk implementation, Russia has not been a positive partner," Trudeau said. "They have not been moving responsibly or appropriately on things like (the) ceasefire and international observers."
To that end, Trudeau announced Canada would contribute additional observers to the European international agency that's struggling to monitor the almost daily violations of the ceasefire along the front line.
There will also be $13 million more in humanitarian assistance, particularly for the hundreds of thousands displaced from their homes in the east.
'Russia should start ceasefire'
Poroshenko claimed his government has lived up to over 95 per cent of its political obligations, and 100 per cent of the security pledges it made when the international accord was signed early last year.
"It is vitally important for us that Russia meet the criteria for security," he said. "This is Russia who should start the ceasefire. This is Russia who should make a disengagement. This is Russia who should remove the heavy artillery and multi launch rocket systems, the tanks" from the front line.
Poroshenko, in his opening statement, said he asked Trudeau to extend Canada's military training mission beyond its 2017 end date.
There was no indication from the prime minister whether he would accept that.
"We will stand with our NATO partners, and push on, as you've seen, our friends and partners to continue to be steadfast in support of Ukraine," Trudeau said. "Not just because Ukraine is a good friend to Canada, but because of the values and principles that we stand for as a country."
Nor did Trudeau answer the question about whether his government is prepared to put Ukraine on a register of countries to which Canadian arms makers can export.
He did say Canada was focused on the training mission. Canada has 200 trainers in the country.
Canada-Ukraine trade deal formally signed
The focus of the visit was meant to be on trade.
Earlier Monday, International Trade Minister Chrystia Freeland formally signed the free trade agreement that had been negotiated by the former Conservative government. The deal will now have to be approved by the parliaments of both countries.
"This milestone agreement will improve market access and create more predictable conditions for trade," Trudeau told reporters in Kiev. "By removing tariffs on almost all goods traded between our two countries, and by addressing other trade barriers, the Canada-Ukraine free trade agreement will benefit Canadians and Ukrainians alike."
Trade between Canada and Ukraine is modest, but the deal is seen as politically significant for Ukraine. When it was reached last year, the government said it would mean the elimination of most tariffs on Canadian industrial goods, forestry and wood products and fish and seafood products, as well as the vast majority of agricultural exports to Ukraine. Canada in turn will eliminate most tariffs on imports from Ukraine.
Trudeau said the deal would create better economic opportunities, open up new markets, grow communities and help raise the standard of living for peoples in both countries.
"It will bolster our economies and spur innovation and it will contribute to a stable, secure, prosperous economic future for the people of Ukraine," Trudeau said.
The issue of cleaning up official corruption was also expected to be discussed between Trudeau and Poroshenko.
When he spoke with reporters, Poroshenko defended his government's efforts, saying more has been under his administration than at any other time since independence in the early 1990s.
He went through a laundry list of initiatives, actions and even arrests made by justice officials.
"This is very important, that everybody knows that we are decisively fighting against corruption," said Poroshenko.
The fact that the perception of corruption continues to be an issue for Ukraine is down to Russian "propaganda," he insisted.
The Ukrainian president's anti-corruption effort was dealt a blow recently with the resignation of the country's prosecutor general, Viktor Shokin.
Although he was seen by reformers as too soft in the fight against corruption, he took the unusual step of firing two top officials who had been among the most effective in the crackdown.
His replacement — Yuri Lutsenko — has close personal ties to Poroshenko, something that has worried critics even more.
"Corruption is a problem in Ukraine," said Orest Zakydalsky, a policy analyst with the Ukrainian-Canadian Congress.
"The important thing to remember is that it is not something that can be tackled in six months, one year or two years. This is a long-term effort of overall reform in the country."
Trudeau visits memorials with son
The visit, Trudeau's first to Ukraine since being elected, started with solemn reflection.
Together with his son Xavier, he paid his respects at a park in Kyiv that was the scene of possibly the largest shooting massacre of the Holocaust.
They also visited the tomb of the unknown soldier and a delicate-looking monument to the victims of 1930s Soviet-era famine.
Later Monday, Trudeau is scheduled to visit the Maidan, Ukraine's independence square, where more than 100 people were killed in clashes between police and demonstrators during popular protests two years ago that forced the previous pro-Russian president from power.
With files from The Canadian Press