by Thomas Walkom
Canada’s decision to expel Russian diplomats raises more questions than it answers.
Foreign Affairs Minister Chrystia Freeland said the expulsion of four diplomats and the refusal to accredit three more is designed to show solidarity with Britain, which blames Russia for deploying a deadly nerve agent in England.
She called the use of the nerve agent, which sent three to hospital, a “despicable, heinous and reckless act” – which undoubtedly it was.
But like her British counterpart, she provided no evidence that the Russian government was behind the attack.
Freeland also said she was expelling the four Russians because they had used their diplomatic status “to undermine Canadian security or interfere in our democracy.” That, too, is a serious charge that warrants explanation.
Yet, so far, the Canadian government has offered no information about this interference.
Have the Russians tried to influence the outcomes of Canadian elections? Was Russian President Vladimir Putin behind the chaotic Ontario Conservative leadership race that elected Doug Ford?
Did Putin put his thumb on the scale in the 2015 federal election that propelled Justin Trudeauís Liberals to a surprise victory?
Or was the alleged Russian interference less dramatic, perhaps taking place at the school-board level?
Whatever it was, if the government knew that Russian agents were operating under diplomatic cover to undermine Canadian democracy, why did it wait so long to expel them?
Freeland hasn’t said. My efforts to pry more information from her office were unsuccessful.
Canada’s expulsions were co-ordinated with those of 24 other nations in an effort to show that the West is united against Putinís Russia. And it is relatively united.
The big countries of Europe, such as France and Germany, expelled Russians – as did the U.S.
But 10 members of the European Union, including Belgium, Austria, Greece and Portugal, did not.
Australia expelled two Russians. Japan expelled none.
New Zealand said it wanted to expel Russian spies but couldnít find any.
Also notably absent from the list of expellers was NATO member Turkey.
Western efforts to isolate Russia have been underway since Moscow seized Crimea from Ukraine in 2014. Countries such as Canada argued that the precedent of altering European borders by force should not be allowed to stand. Russia countered, not illogically, that NATO had already set that precedent in 1999, when it used air power to support Kosovoís separation from Serbia.
In any case, the West’s actions against Putin have always been half-hearted, focusing on symbolism over content.
It has imposed some economic sanctions. But given that Europe depends on Russia for 40 per cent of its natural gas, these sanctions are not designed to be too onerous.
Britain, for instance, is happy to see rich Russian oligarchs settle in London – as long as they bring their money with them.
And while the British government has barred senior officials and members of the Royal Family from attending this yearís World Cup in Russia, it is unwilling to mount a full-scale boycott of the event. That would be unpopular at home.
This week’s diplomatic expulsions fit the pattern. They are designed to deliver maximum insult at minimum cost.
In her statement Monday, Freeland savaged Russia rhetorically, for what she called its “pattern of unacceptable behaviour” in Syria and Eastern Europe.
But she also said that “Canada remains committed to dialogue and co-operation with Russia on issues where we face common challenges.”
Which I guess means that we are still prepared to deal with Moscow when it suits us – in spite of its alleged villainy.
Copyright 2018 and distributed by Torstar Syndication Services