Canada to continue re-engaging with Russia: Freeland

Chrystia Freeland is sworn in as Minister of Foreign Affairs as Prime Minister Justin Trudeau and Gov.-Gen. David Johnston look on during a ceremony at Rideau Hall in Ottawa, Tuesday, Jan.10, 2017. Adrian Wyld/THE CANADIAN PRESS
Canada will continue its policy of re-engagement with Russia, said the country’s newly appointed foreign affairs minister who’s been a fierce critic of the Kremlin and has been barred from travelling to Russia.

Chrystia Freeland took over Canada’s foreign affairs portfolio as Prime Minister Justin Trudeau reshuffled his cabinet on Tuesday to prepare for Donald Trump’s presidency, and named the free trade champion and the thorn in the side of Kremlin to be the country’s top diplomat.

Freeland, who calls herself a Ukrainian-Canadian activist, is among 13 Canadian blacklisted politicians banned from travelling to Russia since 2014.

When asked whether her activism in Ukraine and her criticism of President Putin could be a hindrance in bilateral relations, Freeland, who speaks fluent Russian and Ukrainian, responded that her knowledge of Russia and the region will be a big asset.

“I know Russia well, lived in Moscow for four years and really, really enjoyed it and I have a really deep love for the Russian language and Russian culture,” Freeland told reporters in Ottawa. “And I’m a very strong supporter of our government’s view that it is important to engage with all countries.”

Freeland said it’s up to the Kremlin to lift the ban on her travel to Russia.​

“We hope that the Canadian government will follow its stated intention to further re-engage with Russia in areas of common interest,” Kirill Kalinin, spokesman for the Russian Embassy in Canada, told RCI. “We are open to develop bilateral relations on the basis of mutual respect and reciprocity.”

Freeland – who in her previous capacity as international trade minister was credited with reanimating the free trade agreement with the European Union last year – replaced veteran Liberal politician Stephane Dion, who announced that he’s quitting politics.

Freeland’s priority will be navigating Canada’s relationship with the United States, its largest trade and security partner, as protectionist sentiments take root in Washington.

President-elect Trump has vowed to renegotiate the North American Free Trade Agreement (NAFTA) with Canada and Mexico or tear it up completely if he can’t get better terms for the U.S. About 75 per cent of Canadian exports go to the U.S.

Freeland’s success in overcoming last-minute hurdles to signing the Comprehensive Economic and Trade Agreement (CETA) with the EU and her mastery of the international trade file are seen as valuable experience in dealing with the incoming Trump administration.

Trudeau announced that Freeland retains the Canada-U.S. relations file, including trade relations, in her new capacity.

Freeland brings proven international track record, said Fen Hampson, Distinguished Fellow and Director of the Global Security & Politics Program at the Centre for International Governance Innovation (CIGI), in an interview with CBC News.

“Chrystia Freeland brings some key assets to that position,” Hampson said. “She is a very effective communicator, she is a good negotiator, we saw that in the critical role she played in finalizing the Canada-European Union free trade deal.”

As a former top-notch journalist who has worked in New York, Freeland “knows the scene there,” Hampson said.

“I think what our government is saying with her appointments is we want somebody who’s a good communicator, a good negotiator, who’s going to be taken quite frankly seriously in Washington,” Hampson said. “She’s one of the very few cabinet ministers who has what you would call an international reputation and that reputation is very strong south of the border.”

Quebec MP François-Philippe Champagne, a businessman, lawyer, and international trade specialist, takes over from Freeland as Canada’s international trade minister.

In other cabinet changes announced Tuesday, former Immigration Minister John McCallum, a veteran politician who spearheaded Ottawa’s successful campaign to bring nearly 40,000 Syrian refugees to Canada, will also leave politics to serve as Canada’s ambassador in China.

“The Canada-China relationship will be well served by such a strong presence from our government,” Trudeau said.

McCallum will be replaced by Ahmed Hussen, Canada’s first-ever MP of Somali descent and a rising star in Trudeau’s Liberal government.

Related stories from around the North:

Canada: Canada stresses diplomacy and cooperation at Ottawa Arctic conference, Eye on the Arctic

Denmark:  Nordics to step up security cooperation on perceived Russian threat, Yle News

Norway:  Arctic Council aims to boost business, The Independent Barents Observer

Russia:  Russia invites Arctic Council on icebreaker tour, The Independent Barents Observer

Sweden:  Sweden launches UN Security Council presidency with a New Year’s resolution, Radio Sweden

United States: Arctic Council – 20 years in a warming world, Deutsche Welle’s Iceblogger

Levon Sevunts, Radio Canada International

Born and raised in Armenia, Levon started his journalistic career in 1990, covering wars and civil strife in the Caucasus and Central Asia. In 1992, after the government in Armenia shut down the TV program he was working for, Levon immigrated to Canada. He learned English and eventually went back to journalism, working first in print and then in broadcasting. Levon’s journalistic assignments have taken him from the High Arctic to Sahara and the killing fields of Darfur, from the streets of Montreal to the snow-capped mountaintops of Hindu Kush in Afghanistan. He says, “But best of all, I’ve been privileged to tell the stories of hundreds of people who’ve generously opened up their homes, refugee tents and their hearts to me.”

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