The clearest evidence that Canadian and western support for Ukraine is yielding positive results is the peaceful transition of power after presidential elections two months ago, and a continued Canadian presence in elections next month could help highlight further Russian attempts at interference.
That’s according to Andriy Shevchenko, Ukraine’s ambassador to Canada, in an interview with The West Block‘s Mercedes Stephenson.
“It’s something which most Canadians take for granted but it’s not something we take for granted in our part of the world,” he said, adding he is glad for the roughly 500 Canadian election observers who have been sent to monitor the highly anticipated elections in the country.
Those results were widely viewed as a test for how the country would handle attempts by Russia to interfere in its election.
Interference had been anticipated to take the form both of cyber manipulation as well as physical blocking of access to polls in areas like Crimea and eastern parts of Ukraine, and the Canadian Press reported earlier this year that Russian interference still kept roughly one million Ukrainians from going to the polls.
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And while there were some concerns over how some state resources were used in the vote, the presidential elections got the stamp of approval from the Organization for Security and Co-operation in Europe, which deemed the vote both free and fair.
Actor and comedian Volodymyr Zelenskiy won the election, unseating Petro Poroshenko who had been elected in 2014 following the Ukrainian revolution that ousted former pro-Russian president Viktor Yanukovych.
Zelenskiy is untested, new to political life but propelled into office on a wave of resentment for the way businesses as usual was being done.
It’s a scenario similar to the populist wave that catapulted U.S. President Donald Trump from a reality TV star into the Oval Office in 2016.
Like Trump, Zelenskiy has quickly faced criticisms of trying to circumvent the system. Moments after being sworn in as president last month, Zelenskiy dissolved the Ukrainian parliament and moved up the parliamentary elections — they had been scheduled for the fall.
He justified the move by casting the parliamentarians in place as corrupt, accusing them of looking only for “kickbacks, money laundering, and corruption.”
Shevchenko didn’t mention the decision in his interview but said he hopes the election interference observed by Canadian monitors during the campaign will help them recognize the signs of interference in the upcoming federal election this fall.
He said if he has one piece of advice for Canada, it’s to act decisively.
“You do not have to wait when this major interference comes into your backyard,” he said. “We saw several major avenues for interference into the elections … that’s why we feel it’s very important for us to share our experience how we fight this interference with the Canadians.”
The issue and how to apply lessons learned to the upcoming Ukrainian parliamentary elections in July is set to form a big part of the agenda at the Ukraine Reform Conference being hosted by Canada in Toronto next week.
It will bring together Ukrainian leaders, foreign ministers and parliamentarians from around the world to discuss how best to cement democratic reform in Ukraine and how to address Russian aggression.
Canadian Foreign Affairs Minister Chrystia Freeland will host the event.