Canada has long been one of Ukraine’s strongest supporters in the West. The “Maple Leaf State” is also home to large and influential Ukrainian diaspora that remains involved with Ukraine.
As a result, it was hardly surprising that, throughout 2017, Canada and Ukraine strengthened their partnership through economic agreements, as well as support for military and civil society reforms.
But being a good partner isn’t just about support, according to Roman Waschuk, the Canadian Ambassador to Ukraine. It also means that “where we see there is a danger of things going off the rails, to also point that out,” he says.
Hromadske interviewed Waschuk back in March 2017 after the Ukrainian parliament ratified the Canadian-Ukrainian Free Trade Agreement. Since then, the two countries have tightened defense cooperation through a number of small arms deals with Canadian manufacturers.
We caught up with Ambassador Waschuk again to discuss his views on Canada’s cooperation with Ukraine in 2018.
Canada is supporting Ukraine, as well as other countries from [the] G7. But at the same time there are some moments where it’s the right moment to criticize the Ukrainian government for doing wrong things. What is, and civil society is quite often asking international partners to interfere, to help, to maintain this pressure on Ukrainian authorities. What would be, according to you, the balance between criticizing Ukraine and supporting Ukraine, at the same time.
Well our group was named in 2015 when the German presidency of the G7 created a Ukraine support group as opposed to the “beat up on Ukraine” group of G7 ambassadors. So that’s how we see our role. It’s to be as constructive as possible in proposing modality solutions, but where we see there is a danger of things going off the rails, to also point that out. But I think certainly our chairmanship, the approach will be to engage in dialogue first, try and bridge the gaps, bring people together, and only then move to public statements. Events happen in all sorts of ways. Sometimes there may be a need to react to something overnight, I don’t exclude that but we’ve tried to set out an agenda that includes a range of issues so as not to become totally obsessed with only one. Yes, rule of law, the fight against corruption, but also economic growth, human capital development, effective governance, the civilian side of security and defense. Those are all things we’re going to be looking at and at different times during the year we’ll be sharing both privately and publicly more of our thoughts on them.
Another big issue in Ukraine now is anti-corruption, the fight against corruption. I know that Canada and other G7 embassies were quite active in criticizing and trying to influence the Ukrainian government back in December 2017 and now they’d like to allow them to change anti-corruption legislation. What are, according to you, the most effective ways to keep Ukraine on the good road of reforms and anti-corruption?
I’d say we’re more on the influence side. I think there is a need for countries to follow through on commitments. We try to do that with Ukraine and Ukraine needs to do this with things like the Venice Commission recommendations. Once you say “yes, thank you for the recommendations, we’re adopting them” they should be reflected as soon as possible in the legislation. Some of it has been, in the initial draft, but it needs work, and so we will be engaging with both the executive and the legislative branches to try and insure that that happens. And I know [that] certainly my colleagues, other G7 ambassadors, are very much engaged on that as well.
Apart from the fight against corruption what are the most important reforms in Ukraine according to you, for the following year? What should we follow? Naftogaz, economic reforms, social reforms etc.
I think medical reform, health reform will be very important. I think scenes of actual progress on privatization and hopefully some movement on large-scale privatization. If you think about where some of the big problems are now with where money flows in Ukraine it’s state-owned enterprises. So privatization is very important in that. Changes in the state fiscal service, because I think every tax payer in Ukraine wants to have as constructive and good experience in paying taxes or paying customs as possible. So I think a real emphasis on the sort of changes that Ukrainians in their oblasts, cities, and towns, and villages can actually sense and feel. Probably also, it may not happen this year but it might, progress towards land reform as well. Again, I think that’s very controversial but it’s something that is of really great importance for rural areas of Ukraine and rural areas have been contributing a lot to the economy and could do more.
Do you think that Ukraine is somehow more successful in one domain of reform compared to another one?
You know, I think there’s been a lot done on reforming procurement to to purchasing. By now Prozoro is a bit overused as an example but it is a great example and one that other countries are looking at. A lot is being done on the defense side of changes and there’s a whole separate process, not us G7 ambassadors, there’s a defense reform advisory board that’s working on that at the strategic level, plus the various military contingents: the U.S., Canada, Poland, Lithuania, U.K., working at the tactical and operational level. So a lot of changes, but a lot of expectations. So how you balance that is the big challenge for Ukrainian politicians, Ukrainian media, civil society, but also then international partners.
My last question is on police reform. We know that Canada was quite active in helping Ukraine to implement this reform, but now there is still a lot of things to be done. How would you comment on this reform?
It’s one that happened very quickly. When you think about it from initiation to the first patrol police was seven months. Most other international projects that’s the time it takes for a preliminary feasibility study before they’re going to actually put the first police officer on the streets. Now it’s a matter of making it sustainable, bringing across the experience they need and integrating it with the rest of the police force because you can’t simply fire everybody. You need the people with 20-30 years of criminal investigation experience to get the results. So how do you synchronize the new people with the existing people, make everyone feel good and positive about what they’re working on? That’s what our Canadian bi-lateral police mission is working on. We’ve got 20 veteran Canadian police officers here and we’re looking to possibly increase that in the coming year. So helping people work together and helping people move forward possibly, and helping solve crime, make people feel safer, that’s our priority for police reform in 2018.
/Interview by Tetyana Ogarkova
/Text by Eilish Hart