OTTAWA — Foreign Affairs Minister Melanie Joly said she does not support European countries that ban Russians from obtaining visas, arguing that dissidents face growing danger.
She also said Russia should be prosecuted for illegally invading Ukraine, a view Moscow rejected while adding dozens more Canadians to its blacklist on Thursday.
Russian President Vladimir Putin has been pushing to recruit more troops for his war in Ukraine after that country recaptured large swathes of territory.
“Obviously what we’re doing is working, but we need to do more,” Joly told reporters on a Thursday call from New York.
She argued the regime was becoming desperate, posing a risk to dissidents.
This is why Joly has rejected Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky’s demands that Western countries stop issuing visas to Russians.
“There are Russian soldiers who are basically ready to defy the authorities, and who are deserting their ranks, and they are fleeing the battlefield in Ukraine,” Joly said in French.
“There are a lot of Russians who want to leave Russia,” Joly said, saying the visa bans are unfair to people who disagree with Moscow.
The Russian Embassy agreed with Canada on this point.
“Here we can agree with Minister Joly that a visa ban is a policy of collective punishment,” said Artem Kalabukhov, political counselor at the Russian Embassy in Ottawa.
This week, four occupied regions of Ukraine announced plebiscites on whether to join Russia. Joly called them “fake referendums,” which Russia could use as a premise to claim Ukraine was the aggressor.
She also said Canada was working with allies to see if existing international tribunals, or even a new one, could prosecute Russia for illegally invading Ukraine.
In an interview, Kalabukhov dismissed these characterizations.
He echoed Kremlin talking points that the 2014 Ukrainian uprising led to violence that was never pursued, and dismissed international investigations into the reported mass graves in Izium and Bucha as “a staged provocation “.
Kalabukhov also noted Zelenskyy’s statement a year ago that residents of the occupied Donbass region who identify as Russians should move there.
However, Russia justified its 2014 annexation of Crimea with a referendum that many human rights groups said was forced.
On Thursday, the Russian Foreign Ministry announced that it had added 87 Canadian citizens to what it called a “blacklist” that prohibits entry into Russia.
The new names include military officials, lieutenant governors, prime ministers like Quebec’s Francois Legault and members of the nonpartisan Parliamentary Center, which campaigns for democracy abroad.
Bombardier CEO Eric Martel and the heads of various tech companies that donated to Ukraine or discussed providing equipment to its military were also sanctioned.
Kalabukhov said it was in direct response to Canada’s existing sanctions, which Joly vowed Thursday to step up soon.
“Russia is working tit for tat with its actions against hostile countries, and this policy continues,” Kalabukhov said.
“All these sanctions against Russia are symbolic in nature and incapable of affecting the Russian economy, and the Canadian government knows this very well,” he said.
Joly said she will deliver a national address on Monday with a particular focus on Canada’s support for Ukraine.
The Congress of Ukrainian Canadians has called for a visa ban, arguing that Russia’s actions constitute genocide that should bar its citizens from the privilege of traveling abroad.
Congresswoman Ihor Michalchyshyn also called on Canada to send more weapons to Ukraine, which Joly said she was considering.
“The sooner the Russian armies are defeated, the sooner peace will return to Europe,” Michalchyshyn wrote.
This report from The Canadian Press was first published on September 22, 2022