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Canada Making Diplomatic Push For Ukraine's UN Peacekeeping Plan

Ukrainian President Petro Poroshenko (right) met with Canadian Foreign Minister Chrystia Freeland (left) in Toronto in September.

Canada is making a significant diplomatic push to gather international support behind Ukraine's UN peacekeeping plan, its foreign minister has announced.

"Around the world Canada has been leading conversations with a number of countries about the viability and utility of peacekeeping and policing in Ukraine," Chrystia Freeland said on November 9.

Freeland said she "personally explored the feasibility and prospects of such a mission" last week with U.S. Secretary of State Rex Tillerson, U.S. Special Envoy Kurt Volker, and UN Secretary-General Antonio Guterres.

In addition, Canadian Prime Minister Justin Trudeau has pressed the issue with his German counterpart, Chancellor Angela Merkel, she said.

"Our government has been at the heart of international efforts to support Ukraine, and we are working hard to ensure any peacekeeping effort guarantees Ukraine's sovereignty and territorial integrity," Freeland said.

More than 10,000 people have been killed in Kyiv's war with Russia-backed separatists, which broke out after Russia illegally annexed Ukraine's Crimean Peninsula in March 2014.

Ukraine has a longstanding proposal to put United Nations peacekeepers along its borders to ensure Russian troops and weapons are not allowed into the country -- a proposal rejected by Moscow.

Russian President Vladimir Putin recently suggested putting peacekeepers near the line of demarcation between government forces and separatists in eastern Ukraine to protect international observers who are monitoring the conflict.

Kyiv opposed the proposal, but said it was willing to negotiate over it.

Canadian Defense Minister Harjit Sajjan said on November 9 that Ottawa supports Kyiv's plan because it "respects Ukraine's original borders," while it opposes the Russian counterproposal, which he said would "freeze" Moscow's incursion into Ukrainian territory.

Sajjan said he met with his U.S. and European counterparts on the conflict in Ukraine on the sidelines of a NATO defense ministers meeting in Brussels this week.

'Now Is The Time To Act'

Sajjan said he was "cautiously optimistic" about Canada's drive to establish a peacekeeping presence in Ukraine because Russia's proposal at least shows it wants stability there. But he said he remains skeptical about "Russia’s intentions."

"Any opportunity that can de-escalate a situation and bring stability is good. But at the same time, what we don't want to do is deal with Russia's current proposal is freeze it in the current situation."

Sajjan did not say whether Ottawa would be willing to provide troops to participate in a peacekeeping operation in Ukraine. He is hosting a UN peacekeeping conference next week in Vancouver.

Canada's opposition Conservative Party is also behind the push for a peacekeeping mission in Ukraine which opposition leader Andrew Scheer said on November 9 would allow Kyiv "to restore control over its eastern border with Russia, ensuring the Russian military stays within its own country, and out of Ukraine."

"The defense of Ukraine's sovereignty and territorial integrity should be a priority for Canada's government on the international stage," Scheer said. "Now is the time to act."

Canada has a sizable population of 1.3 million with Ukrainian ancestry -- a factor which has led Canadian political leaders of all parties to side strongly with Kyiv in the conflict.

Like the United States and the European Union, Canada has imposed sanctions on Russia for its aggression in Ukraine.

Earlier this year, Ottawa also announced the extension until 2019 of a military mission to train Ukrainian soldiers, and the two countries formalized a defense cooperation pact.

Ukrainian President Petro Poroshenko said during a visit to Canada in September that he expects more stability in eastern Ukraine when Canada assumes the presidency of the Group of 7 (G7) world powers in 2018.

With reporting by AFP, the Toronto Sun, and Globe and Mail
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