Foreign Affairs Minister Melanie Joly says Ottawa is summoning Russia’s ambassador to condemn both Moscow’s attacks on Ukrainian civilians and her Russian counterpart’s recent antisemitic comments about the war.
Speaking alongside U.K. Foreign Secretary James Cleverly following a bilateral meeting in Toronto Wednesday, Joly said the move was in response to last weekend’s missile strike on an apartment building in Dnipro that killed at least 45 Ukrainians in the deadliest civilian attack of the war since last spring.
Joly brought up past attacks on civilians and the mass graves revealed after Russian troops were forced to pull out of Ukrainian cities like Bucha, Irpin and Mariupol, which she said were the result of Moscow’s “increasingly desperate” attempts to achieve victory nearly a year into its invasion.
“We will ensure that those responsible for the horrific scenes and crimes in these cities and those across Ukraine answer to their crimes,” she said.
She added Kremlin officials must also be confronted “face to face” after Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov compared the West’s response to its invasion of Ukraine to the Holocaust earlier Wednesday.
“We will continue to suffocate the Russian regime with coordinated sanctions, and we will continue to counter Russia’s lies with facts.”
Lavrov drew sharp rebukes on Wednesday after saying the United States had assembled a coalition of Western allies to solve “the Russian question” in the same way that Adolf Hitler had sought a “final solution” to eradicate Europe’s Jews.
“Just as Hitler wanted a ‘final solution’ to the Jewish question, now, if you read Western politicians … they clearly say Russia must suffer a strategic defeat,” Lavrov told reporters in Moscow.
The ‘Final Solution’ was Hitler’s blueprint for the Holocaust, which led to the systematic murder of six million Jews, as well as members of other minorities.
Lavrov’s comments come amid rising antisemitism around the globe. The latest annual report from Tel Aviv University found a sharp rise in anti-Jewish attacks in 2021 compared to recent years, particularly in the U.S., Canada and Europe.
The report highlighted data from B’nai Brith Canada that recorded a 40-year high in violent incidents against Jewish people in 2021.
Earlier on Wednesday, Joly said on Twitter that Lavrov’s comments were “utterly disrespectful to victims and survivors of the Holocaust.” She also pointed out that, unlike the Jews during the Second World War, Russia “is the aggressor. Not the victim.”
Russia’s Canadian embassy responded in a statement by highlighting Russia’s role in defeating Germany during that war and liberating the Auschwitz concentration camp — an unrelated fact it said Joly “seems to lack knowledge of.”
The Kremlin has repeatedly insisted its invasion of Ukraine is meant to “denazify” the democratic country, a claim the embassy repeated in its statement.
The White House also condemned Lavrov’s analogy.
“How dare he compare anything to the Holocaust, anything. Let alone a war that they started,” National Security Council spokesperson John Kirby told reporters on Wednesday.
“It’s almost so absurd that it’s not worth responding to, other than the truly offensive manner in which he tried to cast us in terms of Hitler and the Holocaust.”
Cleverly was wrapping up a two-day visit to Canada and the U.S. that included a sit-down with Joly where Ukraine, Iran and other global events were discussed. A day earlier, he held similar meetings with U.S. Secretary of State Antony Blinken and other officials in Washington.
The U.K. is seeking to reposition itself as a leader in Western support for Kyiv following a protracted political crisis that saw the ousting of two prime ministers, Boris Johnson and Liz Truss, over the span of just two months last year.
Britain’s new prime minister, Rishi Sunak, has vowed to intensify support for the war effort, including sending battle tanks to Ukraine and other military aid. Cleverly said Wednesday that aid must flow more quickly from Western allies to the frontlines to help Ukraine push back the Russian army.
The U.K. has also hosted military training for Ukrainian fighters using Western-supplied equipment, which Canada has also taken part in.
Joly said Wednesday that “additional Canadian expertise” will be joining the U.K.’s Government Information Cell that works to counter Russian disinformation that is spread online.
Defence Minister Anita Anand used a surprise visit to Ukraine on Wednesday to announce that Canada is sending another 200 armoured vehicles to help with the country’s defence.
The federal government says Canada has contributed approximately $5 billion in military, financial and humanitarian assistance since Russian forces crossed into Ukraine on Feb. 24, 2022.
—With files from Reuters and the Canadian Press