Wark finds it “repugnant” that Ottawa continues to maintain diplomatic relations with a country whose military is committing war crimes in Ukraine.
He also does not believe that the staff at the Canadian embassy in Moscow can do much of anything right now.
“There are no back channels to call into play,” he contends, “no helpful fixer role to be played.”
Moreover, whereas our EU allies have expelled over 230 Russian officials since Ukraine was attacked, Canada has not expelled any.
When reporters asked Prime Minister Trudeau about the idea, he noted that Russia would likely respond similarly, and he wasn’t sure whether “the symbolic gesture of excluding Russian diplomats from what they are doing in Canada is worth the cost of losing our diplomats in Moscow.”
As for Canadian officials in Russia being ineffective, the prime minister claimed they were “giving us feedback on what the Russian people are doing, connecting with civil society and understanding and supporting Canadians and others who happen to be in Russia at this time.”
I would make Trudeau's case somewhat differently:
Canadian interests are best served within an international system based upon transparent and predictable rules and laws.
We can’t compete when more powerful states make up the rules as they go along; we do better when we can plan ahead.
A sudden closure of the Russian embassy in Ottawa would undermine our commitment to a predictable diplomatic order.
If Russian aggression was the problem, why didn’t we order the embassy closed a month ago?
If Russian war crimes were the reason, why does Syria still have an embassy in Ottawa?
To me, the fact that our EU allies are reducing their missions in Moscow makes the case to stay the course even more compelling.
By remaining in Moscow, Canadian diplomats can augment the EU’s consular capacity should EU citizens in Russia become endangered.
Such capacity matters.
Recall just two years ago, when Iran shot down Ukrainian Airlines Flight 752, killing 55 Canadian citizens and 30 permanent residents.
Having shuttered our embassy in 2012, Ottawa’s response was slowed by the need to rely on Italy to coordinate on its behalf.
To his credit, Wark does call for Canada to maintain a bare-bones consular presence in Russia, but he seems to assume that Moscow will allow that to happen.
I’m not so sure.
Twice in the last five years, Canadian adversaries have reacted disproportionately to Ottawa’s diplomatic actions.
Consider Saudi Arabia’s over-the-top response to a Tweet from Global Affairs Canada in August 2018.
Or Chinese hostage diplomacy in the aftermath of Canada’s arrest of Huawei’s Meng Wanzhou in fulfillment of a US extradition request.
It seems to me that an order to close the Russian Embassy in Ottawa could just as easily lead Moscow to not only close ours right back, eliminating consular access for Canadians in need, but also take further steps to punish innocent Canadians arbitrarily.
All of this is not to say that Russian diplomats in Canada should get a free pass. Rather, Ottawa should respond to any inappropriate Russian activity on a case-by-case basis.
So, by all means, order individual Russian representatives responsible for Tweeting out disinformation to go home, but do so because they violated Canadian policy “against manipulated, deceptively altered or fabricated media.”
Such a measured, transparent move would preserve our interest in a stable and predictable international order as well as Ottawa’s capacity to support Canadians (and others) in Russia as needed.
In sum, now is not the time to take unnecessary diplomatic risks so that we can feel better inside.
On the disproportionate diplomatic responses that Canada has faced of late, see this thoughtful piece by the University of Ottawa’s Roland Paris.
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