The Russia-Canada relations are about to get a reboot with the countries’ foreign ministers expressing willingness to resume the dialogue after a stall caused by diverging views on the situation in Ukraine.
Canada’s new Foreign Affairs Minister, Stephen Dion, told journalists on January 26 that it is not productive to freeze the relations with Russia, signaling a shift in Canada’s foreign policy.
«Look, Canada was speaking to the Russians even at the tough times of the Cold War and now we are not speaking – almost not – because of the former policy of the former government. In which way it’s helping Ukraine? In which way it’s helping our interest in the Arctic?» Dion said.
The Minister stressed that Canada and Russia need to focus on common interests and work from there.
Russian Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov told at a news conference on January 26 that Russia and Canada were ready to resume bilateral partnership suspended by the government of Stephen Harper. «Russia is interested in good relations with all countries. That is why, when we say we are ready for cooperation with the West, we certainly mean Canada as well», Lavrov said.
«We have common tasks and common interests in what concerns Arctic development and cooperation in northern latitudes in general as well as positive experience in economic, trade and other cooperation», he added.
Speaking on CBC News Network's Power & Politics on January 26, Russian Ambassador to Canada, Alexander Darchiev, said Russia was «encouraged» by the October election results that brought a change of government in Canada. The ambassador stressed that it was time to restore a «true dialogue between Russia and Canada».
«We have disagreements but we need to talk and that was the message that I brought here when I came as ambassador, we need diplomacy. We can agree to disagree but we can't stop talking», Darchiev said.
Canada’s southern neighbor is also in the process of shifting its policy on Russia.
US President Barack Obama telephoned Russian President Vladimir Putin on January 13. The two leaders held a detailed discussion on the situation in Ukraine, the Middle East tensions and North Korea’s nuclear brinkmanship. It was a substantial phone conversation, signifying a Russian-American constructive engagement at a juncture when the US and its European allies are in need of Russia’s cooperation to tackle a host of regional issues.
In an interview with a German newspaper Handelsblatt, former US Secretary of State Henry Kissinger talked about the dangerous mix of new security threats and the ongoing fight against Islamic State terrorists.
Russia and Western countries should play a key role in this process and join their efforts in the fight against terrorism. «The West must recognize that the agreement cannot be reached without Russia», he noted. «A peaceful de-escalation of these and other problems is impossible without Russia’s participation», said the foreign policy veteran.
Donald Trump, the US Republican presidential race frontrunner, has said many times that he stands for improvement of relations with Russia.
«I think it would be great if we had a good relationship with Russia, I think it would be great if we had a good relationship with China», Trump stated in an interview with Fox News. «I bring people together, I don't divide».
The voices calling for a shift in the policy on Russia are also heard louder in Europe.
Jean-Claude Juncker said, the EU must restore a «practical relationship» with Russia and not let the US «dictate» that policy. «Russia must be treated decently», the official noted adding that «we can't let our relationship with Russia be dictated by Washington».
It’s important to point out that Turkey is also a part of the trend. Ankara would like to overcome a difficult situation in relations with Moscow that arose after the incident with the Russian SU-24 jet, Turkish Foreign Minister Mevlut Cavusoglu said.
The Minister reminded about the meeting with his Russian counterpart Sergei Lavrov in December in Belgrade. «We agreed to keep this diplomatic channel open», he said. «Turkey has never wanted to escalate the conflict; moreover, we tried to do our best to resolve this incident that unfortunately happened», Cavusoglu said. «We regret that it happened, because Russia is not only our partner, but an important partner», he added. Cavusoglu also noted that he is ready at any time to meet with Russian Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov.
Inside the EU dissenting voices are also raised from time to time. Italian Prime Minister Matteo Renzi, Hungarian Prime Minister Victor Orban and Czech President Milos Zeman, as well as many other European politicians, have already come out in support of normalizing the relations with Russia.
There are well substantiated reasons to spur the desire to mend fences with Moscow. The cooperation with it is crucial for tackling the most pressing challenges the world faces today.
Moscow holds a permanent seat on the UN Security Council with veto power that makes it a leading actor in any effort to settle a major international problem with profound effects on Western order and solidarity. Moscow’s political clout has grown as a result of its memberships in the BRICS forum, the Shanghai Cooperation Organization, the Collective Security Treaty Organization, the Council of Europe, and the OSCE.
Russia boasts nuclear parity with the USA. It is known for its military might. In 2014, Russian military budget of approximately $69.3 billion was higher than in any other European nation. It increased by 97% since 2005 and the Russian military is being extensively modernized. With its military power on the rise, no meaningful conventional and nuclear arms control is possible without Russia. The country is the world’s largest exporter of natural gas, and the second largest producer of oil. All this makes Russia vital for the world’s energy security and efforts to tackle climate change. As the recent UN Conference on Climate Change in Paris demonstrated, West-Russia cooperation is crucial for success in this field. The US, Canada, major European countries and Russia supported the new agreement limiting greenhouse gas emissions and pledged to work hard to achieve the ratification of this document by major pollutants.
The Iranian nuclear deal is a big step towards better international security. It would not have been possible to achieve it without the support from Moscow. The fight against the Islamic State necessitates close cooperation between Russia and the US-led coalition. The Lavrov-Kerry January 20, 2016 meeting held in Zurich demonstrated that the sharp divergence in the positions of the US and Russian governments on the solution of the Syrian conflict has now ended. Washington no longer insists on Assad’s immediate departure. Russia and the West cooperate in the effort to launch the Geneva round of talks on Syria. They still have a lot of opportunities for cooperation in the WMD non-proliferation sphere. Along with the need to monitor Iran’s denuclearization, Moscow and the West have the North Korean nuclear program on their agenda – another difficult problem to be solved. At the outset of this year, North Korea declared that it had detonated its first hydrogen bomb to make this issue even more acute.
It demonstrates that the campaign to isolate Moscow is over with a newly flexible and collaborative relationship visibly emerging. Like it or not, cooperation with Russia is essential. The new Canadian government leading a G7 member state has proven to be pragmatic enough to see reality and provide a boost to the process of normalization of the relationship between the West and Russia – an emerging trend to shape the international situation in early 2016.