Was Kirill Kalinin some kind of intelligence operative, as the Trudeau Government and The Globe and Mail now want us to think, or just an unusually talkative and savvy social media spokesperson for the Russian Embassy in Canada, as reported in the National Post’s Friday morning scoop that he was among those caught in the NATO-wide purge of Russian diplomats implies?
It's an interesting question, although probably not all that significant in a world where all diplomatic representatives of all countries in all foreign posts are authorized by their hosts to keep their eyes open and report home on what they see.
That said, Kalinin's high-profile public role as press secretary of the Russian Embassy with the senior rank of First Secretary, described in an interview and commentary on this blog two months ago, was quite unusual in the annals of diplomacy for an envoy who was not an ambassador.
The more significant question is whether Kalinin was some kind of political saboteur who interfered in Canada’s democracy, which Prime Minister Justin Trudeau claims someone on the Russian Foreign Ministry's diplomatic staff was up to.
As the PM told a press conference Wednesday, with NATO Secretary General Jens Stoltenberg standing at his side, someone "used their diplomatic status to undermine Canada's security or interfere in our democracy."
"We all can remember the efforts by Russian propagandists to discredit our minister of foreign affairs in various ways through social media and by sharing scurrilous stories about her," Trudeau told the media.
This was an odd explanation for the mass expulsions of Russian diplomats by countries in the U.S. orbit, since the purpose was supposedly to punish Russia for a poison attack on a former intelligence official and his daughter in the U.K. The Russian government denies having anything to do with the attack, despite aggressive claims by a shaky British government that they did. As usual with such matters, we're mostly asked to take it on faith.
Neither Canadian nor Russian officials have named any of the four diplomats expelled from Canada. But Kalinin told the Post's David Pugeliese he was on the list in an interview in advance of his departure with his pregnant wife and young daughter on Thursday. The Globe said yesterday it had confirmed his expulsion -- presumably by reading the Post.
Whatever the jobs of the three anonymous members of Russia's consulate staff in Montreal were, they certainly didn't attract the attention Kalinin's Tweets did.
As Pugeliese observed, Kalinin was not shy about the issues he took on publicly, which included the Nazi collaborationist history of Foreign Affairs Minister Chrystia Freeland's grandfather and the presence in Canada of memorials to Ukrainian military units that fought for the Nazi cause in World War II. One of those memorials, which honours veterans of the 14th Waffen SS Division, is found in Edmonton's St. Michael’s Cemetery.
The prime minister tried to leave the impression Kalinin's comments about Freeland's late grandfather were merely allegations, encouraging some reporters to refer to them as "a smear."
Unfortunately, they are facts. As Toronto Star columnist Thomas Walkom pointed out Thursday, the unsavoury truth about Michael Chomiak was revealed in "a front-page story in that well-known vehicle of Russian propaganda, The Globe and Mail."
Here's what the Globe said two years ago to this day: "Foreign Affairs Minister Chrystia Freeland knew for more than two decades that her maternal Ukrainian grandfather was the chief editor of a Nazi newspaper in occupied Poland that vilified Jews during the Second World War."
So there is no question Kalinin got his facts right on the matter of the late Michael Chomiak. The big questions are whether telling a politically relevant truth about the family of a cabinet minister is an appropriate thing for a foreign diplomat to do, and whether such an activity by a diplomat amounts to interference in the democracy of the host country.
Since the information had already been published in a variety of media widely available to Canadians, including prominent display in the so-called national newspaper, the suggestion that critical comments about it interfered in Canada's robust democracy is an insult to voters.
Indeed, you could argue Kalinin made a valuable contribution to a Canadian discourse in this matter, as he did on the disgrace of monuments to Nazi military formations and sympathizers sitting unremarked in Canadian cities.
The real problem seems to be that Kalinin's commentary got up a powerful minister's nose by speaking the inconvenient truth about her relative.
After all, it's not a "scurrilous story" to say the foreign affairs minister’s grandfather was a Nazi collaborator and a propagandist for the Holocaust. It's an uncomfortable fact, which Freeland knew perfectly well.
As I wrote on this topic a year ago, no one should be punished for the sins of their relatives. The problem for Canadians should be that Freeland and her staff tried to pass off her grandfather's history as "Russian disinformation.” In other words, she was lying to us, at a minimum by omission and misdirection.
Now, whether a diplomat should be declared persona non grata for pointing out an influential minister's lie is a question your blogger is not qualified to answer. So is the question of whether the fact the minister also happened to be an aggressive critic of the activities of the government the diplomat represented should be considered a mitigating factor, or the opposite.
Presumably Kalinin knew the risks and someone in the Russian Foreign Ministry approved his taking them.
This post also appears on David Climenhaga's blog, AlbertaPolitics.ca.
Image: David Climenhaga
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