Crescendoing concern over Russia-Ukraine tensions has prompted many nations to order their foreign service representatives to evacuate the region. Russian President Vladimir Putin insists that he has no intention of invading the former Soviet State, according to a report from Reuters. However, the growing military presence in Belarus – which includes tanks, artillery, ships, and airpower – has led NATO allies and western powers to believe otherwise.
Amid the tensions, Canada’s diplomatic office recalled all non-essential staff stationed in their Kyiv embassy, according to The Hill. “Canada has decided to temporarily withdraw non-essential Canadian employees and remaining dependents from the Canadian embassy in Ukraine,” Global Affairs Canada said in a statement on Sunday, January 30. This took place nearly a week after Canada ordered the evacuation of the families of their diplomats.
“As we continue to closely monitor the situation, our highest priority remains the safety and security of Canadians…Canada will be reinforcing the team at the Canadian Embassy in Kyiv, Ukraine, with officials with expertise in areas such as security sector reform, conflict management, democratic reform, consular services, and diplomacy,” Global Affairs Canada said. Euronews notes that the embassy will remain open as essential employees maintain operations. Canadians “in need of assistance” in Ukraine have been directed to contact the embassy.
An adviser to the Ukrainian president’s chief of staff, Mykhailo Podolyak, told Canada’s Globe and Mail newspaper that the decision to recall diplomats’ families from Ukraine was understandable, but it weakened Ukrainian morale. The Washington Post records Podolyak’s response. He states that “overreacting to what the Russian Federation has been doing… is making Ukrainian society nervous.”
Despite criticism, Canada’s response mirrors that of other western countries, including the United States and the United Kingdom. Both countries have also authorized the evacuation of specified embassy staff and the families of their diplomats, considering the threat of a possible Russian incursion. Germany and Australia also recalled members of their embassy staff and urged their citizens to leave the nation, according to a report from The Washington Post.
In contrast, European Union (EU) foreign policy chief Josep Borrell states that most members of the EU do not plan to immediately scale back their embassy staff. “We are not going to do the same thing because we don’t know any specific reasons,” Borrell said before meeting with EU foreign ministers on Monday. In congruence, The New York Times reports that Ukrainian Foreign Ministry spokesman Oleg Nikolenko called the evacuation of American, British, and Canadian diplomatic families last week “premature.”
Beyond withdrawing non-essential embassy staff, Canada has also joined NATO and other western powers in diplomatically discouraging Russia from invading Ukraine. On Wednesday, January 26th, Canadian Prime Minister Justin Trudeau said that the Canadian government will continue to support Ukraine “based on what is best for the people of Ukraine and what is best towards keeping peace globally” according to a report from Global News.
Canada, however, has not yet decided to follow the United Kingdom’s lead in providing “defensive” weaponry to Ukrainian security forces. When asked why Canada has not supplied further military aid to Kyiv, Trudeau stated that importing weapons of war could be interpreted as a pretext for Russia to accelerate hostilities. “While I won’t get into operational details, I can tell you the Canadian Armed Forces, the Canadian foreign service, our multilateral partners, we’re all looking at a range of possibilities and contingencies to make sure that we are best able to keep people safe and support the Ukrainian people,” Trudeau said.
Canada has been slower to react to the crisis in Ukraine than other western powers, including the United States and the United Kingdom. Their delay in withdrawing embassy personnel and their hesitance in providing defensive support indicate that Canada does not want Russia to feel provoked by the west. “One of the things that we have seen is that Russia is looking for excuses or reasons to continue and even escalate its aggression against Ukraine,” Trudeau said. Furthermore, Canada’s current determination to act slowly is based on an understanding that their diplomatic decisions have the potential to escalate the crisis.
With approximately 100,000 Russian troops massing along the Ukrainian border, the eyes of the world cautiously await what is to come. The situation evolves daily as Russia’s military presence expands. Putin is dismissive of claims that Russia is positioning to attack. The BBC reports that the Russian forces in the region will reach their peak between February 10th and 20th. “Together, we will increase our diplomatic capacity and allow us to continue to assess and respond to the evolving situation in support of Ukraine,” Global Affairs Canada added in a statement on Sunday.
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