The Current·Q&A

'Ukraine is fighting an existential war for all democracies,' says foreign affairs minister

During a surprise visit to Ukraine this weekend, Prime Minister Justin Trudeau, Deputy Prime Minister Chrystia Freeland and Foreign Affairs Minister Mélanie Joly pledged more support to Ukraine and reopened the Canadian Embassy in Kyiv.

Mélanie Joly, Trudeau and Chrystia Freeland pledged more support for Ukraine during surprise weekend visit

Foreign Affairs Minister Mélanie Joly says it was important for her and other Canadian officials to visit Ukraine and reopen the Canadian Embassy there prior to Russia's Victory Day on May 9. (Adrian Wyld/The Canadian Press)

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When Foreign Affairs Minister Mélanie Joly visited the Ukrainian city of Irpin this weekend, she saw a city that, were it not for the scars of war, would have reminded her of some of Toronto's suburbs.

"Irpin is a city … where young people buy a first house or a first condo, and they have their first children there," she told The Current's Matt Galloway. 

"There are lots of strollers usually, lots of parks with places for kids to play — and what we saw were houses completely demolished, burned by missiles, windows shattered."

Joly accompanied Prime Minister Justin Trudeau and Deputy Prime Minister Chrystia Freeland on a surprise visit to Ukraine this weekend.

There, they met with Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky, pledged enduring support for Ukraine, and reopened the Canadian Embassy in Kyiv.

Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky, right, and Canadian Prime Minister Justin Trudeau attend a news conference after their meeting in Kyiv on May 8, 2022. (Efrem Lukatsky/The Associated Press)

Joly said it was important for them to reopen the embassy in order to "show strong sincerity with Ukrainians as they continue to fight a very difficult battle."

It was also key for that to happen before May 9, which marks Russia's celebration of the Red Army's victory over Nazi Germany.

"We knew that for Vladimir Putin himself and his regime, there would be a lot of disinformation and propaganda on that day," she said. "We wanted to make sure that we were striking a strong message against the tyranny that Putin is trying to impose through Ukraine."

Joly spoke to Galloway about Canada's continued support of Ukraine, as well as what it will take to claim victory in the war. Here's a part of their conversation.

Given that destruction, what role do you think Canada should play in rebuilding cities like in Irpin?

Well, we are proud of being behind the Ottawa [Treaty] on land mines, and it is important for us to play a role in terms of being able to [start] to map where these mines are, providing the expertise, [educating] people and helping to get rid of them. 

That's one of the reasons why our ambassador, Larisa Galadza, is now back in Ukraine; to support the diplomatic conversation happening, but also to support NGOs and Ukrainian army, particularly in the context of demining.

Deputy Prime Minister Chrystia Freeland, Joly, Canada's ambassador to Ukraine Larisa Galadza and Trudeau raise the flag over the Canadian embassy in Kyiv on May 8. (Murray Brewster/CBC)

In Vladimir Putin's speech today on what's known as Victory Day, he characterized this as a fight for the motherland. It's day 75 of this war. How far is Canada willing to go to help Ukraine and to see an end to this war?

Well, we're doing already a lot, but of course, Matt, It's not enough. We need to do more because Ukraine needs to prevail. 

Ukraine is fighting an existential war for all democracies, including definitely the ones in Europe, but also across the Atlantic for us and the U.S. So it is important to continue to provide strong and heavy artillery to Ukrainians, [and] to train them also because they don't necessarily always have the right training. 

We need also to provide expertise and intelligence, and meanwhile, we need to suffocate the Putin regime … through economic coercion with strong sanctions. So we at this point announced that we would be imposing more than 1,500 sanctions on oligarchs and their families, trying to make sure that also key industries in Russia are not able to continue to operate, including the technology sector in the aerospace sector.

We put a ban on oil, and also, we've said that all the assets we are seizing in Canada we can ... sell them, and with the proceeds we can participate in the reconstruction of Ukraine. So we're the first one to go ahead with such a strong mechanism. The U.S. has now followed suit and at the G7 yesterday, the European Union leaders mentioned that they would do the same for Europe.

The U.S. defence secretary said that the United States wants to see Russia's military capabilities reduced. In an interview with Reuters last night, our prime minister said "we will do as a world everything we can to make sure that [Putin] loses." What does victory in this war look like?

We know that at the end of this war, once we are able to have to make sure that Ukraine is strong in the battlefield, that they will be strong at the table of negotiation. Because in every conflict, it ends up with a diplomatic solution.

What does that mean? Does that mean going back to the borders of Feb. 24, the day before the war began? Is that victory from Canadian perspective?

We will work with Ukrainians on that and they will decide what they think is the best for them. But what we know for now is that Russia is doubling down in eastern Ukraine and also in the south of Ukraine. And Mariupol … needs to come back into the hands of Ukrainian forces. So we will continue to support them. 

Meanwhile, we're providing strategic and technical advice to Ukrainian negotiators… and we are both heading now to Germany for the G7.

We'll bring … other countries to the table, to make sure that there are strong security mechanisms to support Ukraine in the future. And we bridge the U.S. and Europe and U.K. and we bring everybody to the table. That's my goal for this week.

WATCH: Trudeau says Putin is responsible for 'heinous war crimes'

Putin responsible for 'heinous war crimes,' Trudeau says in Ukraine

1 year ago
Duration 1:00
During a surprise visit to Ukraine, Prime Minister Justin Trudeau pledged further support for the country amid Russia's ongoing invasion.

The prime minister yesterday said that Vladimir Putin is responsible for "heinous war crimes." If you're talking about a negotiated settlement, is it possible to negotiate peace with somebody that's been accused of war crimes?

Well, definitely there needs to be accountability. And that's one of the weakest links in the international rules-based order. We need to reinforce the International Criminal Court. We need to reinforce the International Court of Justice. 

Canada has been behind creating these accountability mechanisms and institutions. So that's why we petition the ICC and the ICJ … and we will continue not only to make sure that war crimes are investigated, but also crimes against humanity and allegations of genocide. 

And can negotiate the end of a war with somebody that the prime minister has called a war criminal?

At this point, like I said, the goal is not to be negotiating, because we don't think that negotiators have the mandate of Vladimir Putin himself to negotiate. We need to be strong in the battlefield. Eventually, we will get to the negotiation table, but Ukrainians will be in a position of strength. 

Written by Mouhamad Rachini. Produced by Karin Marley. Q&A edited for length and clarity

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