OTTAWA – Canada is rebuffing the Kremlin’s thinly veiled overtures that it might be willing to lift a travel ban on new Foreign Affairs Minister Chrystia Freeland if it eases sanctions on Russia.
Joseph Pickerill, Freeland’s spokesman, said Canada isn’t interested in any bargaining on the subject.
“There is no quid pro quo for aggression and illegal action on their part,” Pickerill said in an email.
The Russian news agency Sputnik reported Wednesday that the country wanted to improve relations with Canada and end the diplomatic fight between the two countries.
Sputnik reported that a source in the Russian foreign ministry told reporters, “We are ready to co-operate with Canada in all directions, improve relations and end the sanctions war. But we did not start it. The question is for Ottawa.”
Asked to comment on the report, Kirill Kalinin, a spokesman for the Russian embassy in Ottawa, suggested the onus in now on Canada if it wants the travel ban on Freeland lifted.
“The very last part, ‘(The) question is for Ottawa,’ means that since Canada was the first to implement sanctions, it should be Canada to be the first to cancel some of them,” Kalinin said in an email.
Freeland, who replaces Stephane Dion as Canada’s top diplomat, is among a dozen Canadians placed on a Russian sanctions list in 2014 as part of Russian President Vladimir Putin’s tit-for-tat response to Western sanctions following Russian-backed military incursions into Crimea.
Freeland, a former economic journalist who spent several years working and living in Moscow, has called Putin an authoritarian, an autocrat and “really dangerous.”
Following the cabinet shuffle Tuesday that made her Canada’s top diplomat, Freeland said her background left her “well-positioned” to be part of the government’s Russian engagement, despite the fact her name is on Putin’s sanctions list.
As for getting off that list, “that’s up to Moscow,” she said.
The Russian sanctions will be a major topic of discussion when a group of Canadian MPs heads to Europe and Asia next week to assess Russia’s impact on the region.
Liberal MP Bob Nault, who is the chair of the committee, said some of its discussions with government officials, civil society and academics will centre on whether sanctions are effective, and whether they have any unintended consequences.
The committee has been studying the effect of Canada’s sanctions law and is to issue a report in the coming months.
“This trip comes at an opportune time given what is happening on internationally in this part of the world,” Nault said.