Russia’s embassy in Canada issued a rare statement Tuesday criticizing Foreign Minister Melanie Joly’s comments in support of Ukraine amid the country’s rising tensions with Moscow, accusing Canada of “ignoring numerous crimes” by Kyiv.
Joly wrapped her two-day trip to Ukraine, the first leg of a three-country continental tour that will include stops in France and meetings with European Union and NATO leaders in Brussels. She met with Ukraine’s prime minister and deputy prime minister on Monday to discuss Canada’s support amid a military buildup on the Russian border.
On Tuesday, Joly tweeted a photo of her visiting the Wall of Remembrance in Kyiv, which pays tribute to the nearly 4,500 Ukrainian soldiers who have died fighting Russia-backed separatist forces in the country’s east since 2014. Joly’s tweet was more direct, calling the conflict “the war against Russia.”
The statement from the Embassy of the Russian Federation in Canada said Joly’s tweet “causes nothing but our utmost perplexity,” and attempted to portray the conflict as one waged by Ukraine against its own people.
“The Russian Side anticipates Canada and other Western partners of Ukraine to stop ignoring numerous crimes by the Kyiv regime waging war against its own people, resulting in the deaths of thousands of civilians,” the embassy said.
Russia annexed the Crimean Peninsula from Ukraine in 2014 after the ouster of Ukraine’s Moscow-friendly leader and also threw its weight behind a separatist insurgency that took over large sections in eastern Ukraine. More than 14,000 people have been killed in nearly eight years of fighting there.
Moscow has denied backing the separatists, with Tuesday’s statement marking the latest attempt to distance itself from what the Kremlin calls a civil war.
Global News has reached out to Joly’s office for a response to the Russian embassy’s statement, but had not heard back at the time of publication.
Russia has recently amassed over 100,000 troops at the border with Ukraine but has denied Western intelligence reports that it is planning a military invasion of its neighbour.
Joly on Tuesday told reporters in Kyiv that Canada is “looking at options” in response to Ukraine’s request for weapons and military equipment to help protect itself against Moscow’s aggression. She said the issue has been raised repeatedly amid the escalating tensions.
“We’ve heard, loud and clear, the demands (from) the Ukrainian government,” Joly said at a joint press conference with Ukrainian foreign minister Dmytro Kuleba.
“We know that it is important to play our part in the context, and therefore we’re looking at options and we’ll take a decision in a timely manner.”
Ottawa has yet to send weapons to the Ukrainian army, with Western countries concerned about escalating hostilities along the Ukraine-Russia border. That’s despite Canada having provided training and non-lethal equipment for Ukrainian troops since the 2014 annexation of Crimea.
In Ottawa, Prime Minister Justin Trudeau spoke with some of his key ministers and officials about the situation in Ukraine.
A readout of Tuesday’s call said they condemned Russia’s military buildup in and around the country as well as Russia’s annexation and illegal occupation of Crimea. They underlined the need for Russia to de-escalate the situation, uphold its international commitments, and the need to find a peaceful solution through dialogue.
“Prime Minister Trudeau emphasized that any further military incursion into Ukraine would have serious consequences, including co-ordinated sanctions,” said the readout.
Global News confirmed on Monday that Canada has deployed a small contingent of special forces operators to Ukraine, part of an attempt by NATO allies to deter Russian aggression in Ukraine, and to identify ways to assist the Ukrainian government.
Diplomatic talks broke down after Russia demanded guarantees from the West that NATO will not expand to Ukraine or other former Soviet nations or place its troops and weapons there. Washington and its allies firmly rejected Moscow’s demands during Russia-U.S. negotiations in Geneva and a related NATO-Russia meeting in Brussels last week.
The Associated Press reported Tuesday that Russia is sending a contingent of troops from the country’s far east to Belarus to participate in “major war games.” Last week, U.S. officials warned Russia may be planning “false-flag” operations — attacks or incidents perpetrated by one side but pinned on another — as a pretext for a full-scale invasion.
Joly heads next to Paris and Brussels for further talks with Canada’s allies. She will meet with her French and EU counterparts, Jean-Yves Le Drian and Josep Borrell, as well as NATO Secretary-General Jens Stoltenberg.
Joly said Canada wants to work with allies on a diplomatic solution with Russia that would include talks with international organizations like NATO and the Organization for Security and Co-operation in Europe.
U.S. Secretary of State Antony Blinken will travel to Kyiv for talks on Wednesday with Kuleba and President Volodymyr Zelenskyy.
— with files from Global’s Alex Boutilier, the Canadian Press and the Associated Press