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Ukraine foreign minister makes news in Canada for wanting to scuttle Arctic co-operation with Russia

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Last week, The Globe and Mail published an odd news report featuring the appeal by a representative of the foreign ministry of Ukraine that Canada should cease co-operation with Russia in the Arctic region.

The Ukrainian appeal was prompted by the latest of several statements in the past year by Canadian Foreign Minister Stéphane Dion saying the new Liberal government in Ottawa will not sacrifice Arctic co-operation with Russia on the altar of NATO's efforts to weaken and destabilize the Russian government.

Canada and Russia will hold a conference in Ottawa next month to discuss their Arctic co-operation.

Considering the Canadian government's relatively small presence in the Arctic to begin with, there is not much "co-operation" with Russia to give up or continue, as the case may be. But Dion's statement is part of a calculated effort to sooth Canadians who are concerned with Canada's close partnering with Washington and the European Union in militarily threatening Russia in Ukraine and in the rest of eastern Europe.

Canada is a NATO member fully engaged in the military alliance's anti-Russia drive. Dozens of Canadian soldiers are presently training Ukrainian soldiers and paramilitaries for the civil war being waged by the Ukrainian government in the east of that country. At the same time, Canada occupies the lead role in one of the four, new military battalions that NATO is stationing along the Russian border in the Baltic region. Dion told the 25th Triennial Congress of Ukrainian Canadians meeting in Regina on October 1, "We stand shoulder to shoulder with Ukraine when we take a leadership role in enhancing NATO's deterrents toward Russia, including through the command of the multinational battalion in Latvia."

The Ukrainian representative in question is Vadym Prystaiko. He was Ukraine's ambassador to Canada from 2012 to late 2014 and is currently the country's deputy foreign minister.

The Globe article was authored by a top journalist at the newspaper, Steven Chase, signaling that the Globe's hostile attitude to Russia remains in place even if the newspaper has been less verbose of late in its support for the extreme-right government in Kyiv and Kyiv's neo-Nazi shock brigades.

Chase's article was peppered with the usual anti-Russia tropes -- the 2014 "annexation" of Crimea, Russia's alleged military intervention into eastern Ukraine, its threatening posture against other neighbouring countries in eastern Europe, etc.

Postmedia's lead foreign affairs writer Matthew Fisher chimed in on October 11 with his own argument for breaking Arctic co-operation. His column that day said, "The dreamers now ruling Canada believe a gentler stance can lead to a more trusting relationship with Putin on northern issues." He added his long-standing argument that the Canadian government should spend multiple billions of dollars buying Lockheed Martin's controversial F-35 fighter jet as "the best way to defend Arctic air space."

Russian missile defence in Kaliningrad

Coincidentally, one of the Globe's seasoned writers in Europe has also weighed in with a new anti-Russia diatribe, following several months of break from the Russia-bashing beat. Writing on October 8, Mark MacKinnon says Russia has been acting very aggressively for the past two and a half years; that is, ever since NATO backed a coup in Ukraine in February 2014 that installed a right-wing and fanatically anti-Russia government along Russia's western border.

The scope of scary Russia's aggression is very broad, writes MacKinnon. His list of transgressions includes the latest news that Russia is moving Iksander-400 missiles to its Baltic Sea territory of Kaliningrad. The territory is located between Poland and Lithuania.

The Iksander-400 is an advanced, mobile air defence system. Russia has installed the missile at its naval base and its air base in Syria, following the shoot-down of one of its warplanes by Turkey 11 months ago.

Russia's Ministry of Defence has replied to the scaremongering reporting in Western media by saying that movement of the Iksander missile system, including to Kaliningrad, is a routine part of Russian military drills.

Such drills are no doubt taking on heightened importance following the blatantly provocative move by the United States earlier this year to build medium-range missile bases in its client states of Romania and Poland. But MacKinnon offers a different explanation for Russia's motives, writing:

A new Cold War, often declared by analysts and often denied by both [U.S. and Russian] governments, felt like a very real thing on Friday [October 8].

The news alerts came in rapid succession: Finland reported Friday that its airspace had been violated by Russian warplanes. Then NATO member Estonia reported the same thing. Later, the Estonian government claimed it was tracking a ferry crossing the Baltic Sea that Tallinn said was delivering nuclear-capable Iskander-M missiles to Russia's Kaliningrad enclave, a move one Western analyst likened to a "a Baltic version of the Cuban missile crisis."

MacKinnon and the Globe apparently have no problem at all with the U.S. constructing permanent missile bases in Romania and Poland, located a scant few hundred kilometers from the Russian border. But should Russia respond to such provocations, all hell breaks loose. The motto of Western media in such cases is long-established and goes like this: "NATO provocation and expansion eastward in Europe good, Russian reaction in response bad."

The Polish and Romanian bases house a modified version of Lockheed-Martin's medium-range AEGIS missile.

The Russian move can hardly be considered threatening, considering the original provocation to which it responds. But such details get in the way of another good "Russia did it" narrative of which the Globe and the rest of Canadian mainstream media have excelled during the past two and a half years.

The Canada-Russia Arctic co-operation that Ukraine wants to sabotage

Back on Arctic co-operation, Canada and Russia are two of the eight members of the Arctic Council, a body founded in 1996 to promote scientific research and other forms of cooperation. Its founding conference was in Ottawa. Member states also include Sweden, Norway, Finland, the United States, Iceland and Denmark (via Greenland). Northern Indigenous peoples in the eight countries also exercise a modicum of representation. Enclosed further below is an excerpt of an article which this author wrote eight months ago on the subject of Canada-Russia Arctic co-operation.

As informed Canadians will be aware, Indigenous peoples comprise the majority of the population of Canada's Arctic and sub-Arctic region and many live in appalling conditions of poverty and degradation of their national and cultural rights. Indices of well-being for Canada's northern Indigenous peoples are many times inferior to those of the non-Indigenous population. Health, education, economic conditions, social and institutional violence, rates of suicide, and on and on are many times worse.

The new Liberal government in Ottawa elected one year ago has promised to tackle the Third World conditions in which most of Canada's approximately 1.5 million Aboriginal people live, including in the far north. But so far, there is little action to indicate change from how previous Liberal governments or even the new government's immediate, Conservative Party predecessor, led by the reviled Stephen Harper, have acted.

Canada, it turns out, is a laggard when it comes Arctic endeavours, be it the social conditions of the population or scientific research and advancement. That claim comes from a leading Canadian expert on the subject, Michael Byers of the University of British Columbia. He brings strong academic credentials to the claim. As well, he can hardly be accused of sympathy with Russia. He stands in solidarity with Ottawa's and NATO's anti-Russia crusade. At a seminar on Arctic co-operation attended by this writer 11 months ago at Simon Fraser University in Vancouver, he called Russian President Vladimir Putin a "thug." At a September 2014 seminar at the University of  British Columbia, he called the Russian government "a dangerous and dark regime."

Byers also happens to favour Canada undertaking a vigorous program to militarize its presence in the Arctic.

Further marring of Arctic record

Canada's Arctic reputation has been taking hits as a result of revelations surrounding the country's signal achievement in the far north in recent years -- the discoveries of the two lost ships of Britain's ill-fated Franklin Expedition of 1845-48. HMS Terror and HMS Erebus were mapping the far northern, east-west ocean passages of the future Canada when they became trapped in ice in 1846. The crews perished with few traces until now except for Inuit oral records and a few surviving notes. Terror was discovered in 2014; Erebus was discovered last month.

The spectacular findings of Terror and Erebus have been marred by the conduct of the private interests involved in the searches. Their role has been disproportionately praised by federal government publicity compared to the roles of scientists working for government institutions. (See: Group that found HMS Terror under investigation by Nunavut government, Canadian Press, Oct 6, 2016; and The wreck of HMS Erebus: How a landmark discovery triggered a fight for Canada’s history, Buzzfeed, Sept 14, 2015.)

The disproportionate praising of for-glory archaeologists and related denigration of scientists on the public payroll fits the pro-capitalist ideologies of Liberal and Conservative governments. The denigration by the Canadian government of science as a whole went so far in recent years as to prohibit scientists from reporting directly to Canadians about their work. They must first vet any announcements with a dedicated government watchdog. Contrary to 2015 Liberal election promises, the blatant policies of muzzling scientists practiced by the previous Conservative government have not been entirely extinguished. (See: Muzzled scientists? Trudeau carries on just like Harper, Aug 8, 2016.)

An under-reported sidenote to the discoveries of the lost ships is that the base scientific vessel used in the search for Terror and Erebus was a former research vessel of the USSR Academy of Science. The Akademik Sergey Vavilov was launched in 1988. Its hull is strengthened for travel in icy waters and today it private owners lease it for scientific research or science-based tourist cruises.

Why would one of Canada's leading daily newspapers feature the views of a Ukrainian ultra-nationalist wishing to scuttle co-operation between Canada and Russia in the Arctic? Only the newspaper's editors can answer that for sure. But what is clear is that the Canadian public, threatened by militarism and industrial pollutants in a warming world, gains nothing from such pandering.

See also: "Canada now says open to dialogue with Russia, what does this signal?"

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