I'm just going to read the motion. It states:
||That, pursuant to standing orders 110 and 111, the Standing Committee on Foreign Affairs and International Development invite the Honourable Stéphane Dion and the Honourable John McCallum to appear before the Committee to discuss their Order in Council appointments before May 15th, the last day prescribed by the Standing Orders for the Committee to consider these appointments.
I got this information—as you all did—by the order in council from Foreign Affairs, and I got an email sent to me February 28, 2017. It reads:
||...the Committee may consider an Order in Council appointment during a period not to exceed thirty sitting days following the tabling date in order to examine the qualifications and competence of the appointee to perform the duties of the post to which he or she has been appointed.
I also have copies of the orders in council in question that appointed them as, I believe, special advisers to the , and not as full ambassadors.
I'm interested in moving this motion, obviously, and in having them appear before the committee because I'd like to know how they see their roles developing going forward. China is not normally a destination for politically connected ambassadors or special advisers, and there is no G7 country that has ever split an appointment with another G7 country. I'm interested in hearing from them how they see their roles and what they bring to the roles, particularly because of this reality that in the European context, it has never happened that we've split the roles in two. We don't do that with G7 countries.
There have also been media reports saying that there would be a second order in council appointing them as full ambassadors later on, so I'm wondering what they are doing in the interim. There have been other media reports saying that they are getting either diplomatic training or something called “other advisory capacities”.
I'm also interested in finding out how they use their qualifications and competence to fulfill their roles as special advisers, as opposed to ambassadors, I guess.
I've looked at other order in council appointments that Foreign Affairs has done for other ambassadors, and I haven't found anything similar to what has been done in the case of Mr. McCallum and Mr. Dion. I'm interested in understanding what their roles have been thus far, what kinds of qualifications they've brought to those roles, what exactly they received in terms of training, and how that set them up for the roles they're going to have in the future.
It's very simple. I'm just taking the opportunity. We have the chance to do it as a committee, and I think it would be very valuable to bring them before us to hear from them on how they see their roles and the qualifications they bring.
It's really just that simple.
Thank you so much, Mr. Chairman and honourable members of the committee, for having me here.
With I think seven minutes at my disposal, I will focus my remarks on Russia and Ukraine, where I've recently travelled, but I'm happy to take broader questions.
I will start with Russia. In a global sense, I would say that Russian foreign policy has long been one of seeking prestige, prestige being seen as a valuable asset in and of itself, one that provides the influence and capacity to attain goals, even before those goals have been made clear.
That said, in the region in question, that of the other post-Soviet states, Russia's goals have long been quite clear. Russia has always had a proprietary view of these countries, which were part and parcel of the Russian empire before the Soviet Union came along. Unlike the countries of the Warsaw Pact, such as Poland and Romania, these countries, or these regions at the time, were integrated into the U.S.S.R. and ruled from Moscow. The Baltic countries are a somewhat different issue, which we can discuss.
Over the 25 years since the collapse of the Soviet Union, the countries of the so-called west have seen themselves as working together to, among other things, spread liberal democracy into the countries that used be part of the U.S.S.R. and the Warsaw Pact. While there was debate about the enlargement of NATO and the European Union, among the strongest arguments for the acceptance of new members into the institutions was the view that it would incentivize the reforms that in turn would enable these countries to free their polities and their economies.
This was seen as good for the states in question, which at least in principle wanted reforms but had a difficult time implementing them for political reasons. It was seen as good for the west and good for the world, in part because it was believed by many that it would increase peace and stability, based in large part on the hypothesis that democratic states are less likely to go to war with one another.
Russia, initially a comparatively willing participant in these processes, soon came to see them as antagonistic, aimed at limiting Moscow's influence in its neighbourhood, and thus limiting the very prestige it felt it was due. While the Kremlin accepted what it saw as the loss of the former Warsaw Pact states, and even the Baltics, it remained neuralgic about the other post-Soviet countries, which Dmitry Medvedev, now the Prime Minister and then the president, described as being in the zone of privileged interests for Moscow in 2008, at the time of Russia's war with Georgia.
Ukraine, in that context, has always been a particularly tendentious case. For many in Russia, the idea of an independent Ukraine is confusing at best. The similarities between the Ukrainian and Russian languages, the very limited historical experience of Ukrainian independence, and the closeness of the two populations over the years have fed a consistent Russian narrative of Ukraine as part of Russia. I would note that even Russian liberals, who speak out against the annexation of Crimea, see Ukraine as a model of what can be done in Russia by people who are basically, in their eyes, just like Russians.
Russia's actions of 2014 seem to many outside that country as highly disproportionate to any risk that the EU association agreement plans that sparked the crisis really presented. In turn, both the western and Ukrainian responses surprised Russia, and I believe constrained it, in that the Kremlin was forced to recognize the limits of any natural influence it felt it had over Ukraine and recognize the prospect of substantial resistance, as well as increased international pressure, should it push too far.
At the same time, Russia soon found benefits to the standoff that emerged with the United States. These took the form of increased global prestige and a bit of a “gloves off” environment for taking other actions, from Syria to election meddling, one presented as standing up to the United States. Some of this might have happened anyway, but I think a good bit probably would not have.
I would say that today the mood in Russia is one of increasingly cautious optimism. While most in Russia did not actually expect the election of Donald Trump, his statements of support for Vladimir Putin did play very well with the Russian media and public, and indeed outside of Russia in some of the other post-Soviet countries where the Russian media is prevalent.
The expert community, for its part, is concerned about the lack of a clear policy from the White House, and speculates that any honeymoons between Trump and Putin will be brief. This said, many specialists remain hopeful of rapprochement, though whether the Kremlin thinks that is in its interests or not, and under what conditions, remain quite unclear.
On a visit to Moscow last October and November, most Russians I spoke with saw the eastern Ukrainian adventure as a mistake. More recently, this past February, just about a month ago, I heard very little discussion of the situation in Ukraine and far more speculation about U.S. policy writ large. That's not a surprise.
As fighting in Avdiivka broke out just as I was in Russia, Russians speculated that Ukrainians had started it and were seeking attention. In Ukraine, where I was shortly after I was in Moscow, there was again, not surprisingly, a very different narrative. In regard to Avdiivka, Ukrainians emphasized the rapid and effective humanitarian response that they put together for the crisis as well as Russian perfidy.
Ukrainians are also speculating on what a Trump presidency in the United States means for them and remain very nervous about possible deals with Russia, but Ukraine is facing substantial challenges at home. Several Ukrainian and western officials spoke of “reform fatigue” and noted that, while some rapid and effective changes had been possible when the crisis was new, vested interests were now precluding the implementation of key components of economic, security sector, and energy reforms, from gas metering to delineating the roles and responsibilities of Ukraine's domestic intelligence security agency, the SBU.
Less reformist movements in parties are gaining in popularity, and the failure of the EU to grant Ukraine a promised visa-free travel regime has fed growing frustration. While few publicly argue that the occupied portions of the Donbas aren't worth fighting for, the recent resolution of the blockade of trains travelling to and from those territories with coal speaks to the conflicted attitude of Ukrainians as the crisis goes into its third or fourth year. After refusing protestors' demands for weeks, the government abruptly switched the position, decided to take their side, and cut off trade with the occupied territories. This is particularly interesting in light of its failure to give in to other protester demands, such as progress on reforms.
I would say Ukraine's history over the last quarter century is a repetitive one, as a genuine commitment to and impetus for reform run aground on corruption and cynicism. This has happened multiple times in every sphere of governance, leaving many who work with the Ukrainians to burn out, then creating room for those who haven't had that experience of disappointment to repeat their efforts.
It's also what brought us to where we are today. If reform had been more successful previously, the current crisis would not have taken place. Ukraine needs reform regardless of western policy, but insofar as the west wants to help, I'd argue that the answers lie in conditionality and informed assistance, which I can speak to more in questions and answers. I would say that, for all the importance of Ukraine's success, not least what message it sends to Russia, trying to prop up a Ukraine that is not viable or not doing its part is perhaps one of the worst and most dangerous ways forward.
I think I've taken the time allotted to me, and I'm happy to take questions and have a conversation.
Thank you very much, Ms. Oliker, for being here.
You have written in your previous articles of how Russia wants to come back into a bipolar world and how it wants to increase its prestige. You have also written that according to their national strategy they are trying to have these lofty goals, but there's a lack of surety around how they are going to reach these.
My question to you is purely economic, just to start off. We see the rise of China, especially in Eurasia. You have the One Belt, One Road Initiative, which has isolated Moscow. You have the Eurasian economic zone, which is more Russian-influenced than it is for the other countries. You have an economy now in Russia that is pretty well equivalent to New York City.
Their national strategy has lofty goals. They have great desires. You have written that they want to oppose Washington, but in many cases they need Washington. After the election of Trump, the media in Russia stated four points on which they wanted to have some negotiation with the Americans: joint operations against terror, agreeing that Montenegro is the last NATO country, maintaining the spheres of influence of the near abroad, and considering Crimea a part of Russia.
When you look at all these things, on the one hand they want to create a bipolar world, but on the other hand they need Washington. More importantly, above and beyond anything else, they need an economy that will fund their ambitions.
Could you explain how? Because it seems to me that somewhere down the line China is going to play a predominantly greater role in Russian affairs than any other country.
There are three questions in one here, I think.
In terms of bipolarity, I would say that Russia needs the United States because it needs the North Pole, right? When it talks, it talks about multi-polarity, but China is a component here; Europe, maybe, is a component here. In its ideal universe, you're back to the Cold War. It's the United States and Russia. If the United States is less active and you do have the emergence of a true multi-polarity, I don't know that Russia has a clear sense of what it would do, and I don't know if it's going to develop one.
There has long been tension between co-operating with the United States and standing up to the United States. I think what's dangerous, over the last three years, is how much of a benefit it feels it's gained from standing up and not co-operating. When we talk about co-operating in Syria, I mean, we're talking mostly about joining together to bomb the same people. It doesn't actually stabilize Syria, and it doesn't make any progress towards solving that fundamental problem. It's an interesting kind of co-operation. I suppose it gives everybody, then, the opportunity to blame the other guy for the failure later, but again, Russia's agenda in Syria is a positive one: keeping the Syrian government in power. It's probably a more clear agenda than that of the United States, to be honest. What it does from there it doesn't have a plan for, and neither does anybody else. This idea that it'll co-operate by continuing to bomb is a bit incomplete.
In terms of Russia's economy, don't underestimate Russia's capacity to punch above its economic weight. It does that by drawing on its population's willingness to deal with hardship and accept it, and its willingness to put more money into defence when the economy goes down, which is what it's done. As Russian growth started to drop in 2009, that's when the defence budget, as a share of GDP, started to go up. Until then it had been pretty stable as a share of GDP. If you listen to Russians in how they defend Putin, you hear a lot of “He is the only one under whom we've experienced growth. He's the only one under whom we've experienced prosperity.”
Prosperity is not normal to the average Russian. Hardship and difficulties are. Putin is the only guy who's ever made it better. That it's back to normal isn't necessarily a failure of Putin. It's still his success that after the 1990s Russia was better. Russia's capacity to spend less on infrastructure, health care, and education and to continue to spend more on defence is higher than that of a lot of other countries for these historical reasons. That's not to say that there isn't a breaking point, but I don't think the breaking point is economic. I think overreach in Ukraine, if the Ukraine crisis gets worse and the Russians become more militarily involved and get bogged down, that sort of thing, is where I see the fault lines and the failures—maybe the north Caucasus also.
China is interesting because I think the Russians have always been nervous about China, but it's not polite to say so these days. China is the alternative to Europe, though it hasn't proven to be as economically feasible a one as had been hoped. China is also Russia's gateway to Asia in terms of being an Asian power. However, as Russia's ambitions in Asia develop, Russia will start to think about how a real great power doesn't follow in somebody else's footsteps. As it thinks about rapprochement with Japan and as it reaches out to southeast Asian countries, you very easily see areas where its relationship with China could break down—not immediately, though I would argue that real rapprochement with Japan would certainly give China pause.
Over time, I think this is going to be a real point of tension in that relationship. When you hear Vladimir Putin talk about the INF treaty, while he says that Russia is not violating it, he also points out that other countries on its borders have similar capabilities and that Russia doesn't develop them because of the treaty. I don't think it's just Europe he's talking about.
That's a great question.
What I said was that when I was there in November, I heard a number of people say it was a mistake. Now I've heard people characterize the mistake differently. Some people thought the mistake was not marching to Kiev; other people thought the mistake was getting involved in the first place. I heard both sets of viewpoints.
I don't have good public opinion polling on the Russian population as a whole. I think overall the sense is that the annexation of Crimea continues to be seen as a great thing, and what Russia actually is or is not doing in Ukraine continues to be a subject for debate, though I've noticed that in elite circles, people have become more and more comfortable admitting that Russian forces are in fact fighting in Ukraine.
I think the October-November opinions before the U.S. election, to be blunt, had a lot to do with both the Ukrainian response and the western response. I think the election of Donald Trump has made Russia think that this might be more salvageable than it was, and Ukraine's continuing inability to solve some problems also feeds into that. I haven't gone back to the people to ask whether they've rethought those positions since then. I think it would be an interesting exercise.
Russia has a different problem, one that's not talked about, which is it's not just the Russian military in the Ukraine. There are Russian volunteers, folks who just decide to pick up a gun and go to Ukraine. There is a certain class of Russians, mostly men, some women, who have limited economic prospects, who are frustrated with their lives. Some of them will go to Syria; some will go to Ukraine.
If they've gone to Syria, they're going to have a hard time coming back. If they do come back, they will be arrested. If they go to Ukraine, they come back with their weapons to Russia, and there they may be part of the Russian right wing. They may be part of the groups that are frustrated with the Russian government for not pressing on in Ukraine and not rescuing Ukraine, and not backing them up. They don't get veterans' benefits, so I think that's something Russia is going to face going forward.
I think we make a mistake if we blame the Russians for exploiting our weaknesses. Our problem is the weakness, not the Russian exploitation of the weakness.
Speaking as an American, let me say that if we have a system that can be so easily.... Look, I don't think the Russians got Donald Trump elected in the United States. I think the Americans got Donald Trump elected in the United States. The Russians were extremely pleased and we can find evidence of Russian interference, but that's different from saying that Russian interference did this. I think that's an important line to draw.
The danger is that the Russians may think they were responsible and, therefore, can do it elsewhere and will become emboldened and do more. I don't know that this makes them more effective. I do know that it worsens prospects for getting on with any sort of better relationship between east and west.
I also think that we face a crisis of liberal democracy. We face opposition to it at home. We face uncertainty about it in Europe, in the United States, and I think actually to a lesser extent among you all in Canada. You and the Germans may be left with the best chance. We'll all be moving.
I think there is a challenge for those who believe in it to defend it and to sell it better. I've been very impressed by American civil society and by America's courts in utilizing the institutions. It is about utilizing the institutions to defend them—utilizing the freedoms, utilizing the balances of power.
I also think it is about strengthening the media, as both a variety of voices and as a check and balance in and of itself—you know, the “fourth estate” model. We still have much to do to figure out how this works in the information age. I don't claim to have good answers to that.
Again, I still think that Russia isn't a problem. Russia is exploiting the problem.
I'm glad the questioning went in that direction, talking about the weaknesses that the Russian government is exploiting.
I want to refer to a European Commission survey, the Special Eurobarometer 451 on the future of Europe. Many countries in central and eastern Europe, such as Croatia, Lithuania, Romania, Latvia, Bulgaria, and Poland—all those populations—see, according to the survey, anyway, their number one issue as the standard of living of EU citizens. They had choices, such as the good relationship between EU member states, and economic and industrial trading power. Their focus was on living standards in eastern Europe and central Europe. When you look further into it, the study talks about the number one issue identified by these populations. The majority of the states, 16 out of 28, said that unemployment is the number one issue. Only one said that terrorism and security issues were their primary concern, and that was the Netherlands.
Can you comment on this weakness that we see? The polling that even the European Commission does indicates that people's primary focus, even in countries much closer to the conflict along the borders with the Russian Federation, is the economy and their personal individual situation. Twenty-five years after the end of the Cold War, people are still, even in those regions very close to the conflict, focused on “my living standard”, “my family”, and how they can improve their personal livelihood. Can you comment on that?
Is it true, then, that the weakness is economic? If it is economic, in which parts of the economy is the continuing weakness? As you've mentioned, it's not as if the Russian Federation is offering a really high living standard comparable to what the European Union can or may be able to provide.
It's a little different in different parts of the region.
The Islamic State, Daesh, is in Russia. There was a local group, the Caucasus Emirate, that was very active for a number of years. They fell apart recently, in part due to Russian government pressure, in part due to internal pressure. Daesh has pretty much picked up their goal, and they are definitely the violent radical Islamist game in town in Russia, although other groups also come and go.
In central Asia, the affiliations aren't as clear. I think what's interesting about central Asia is that a decent number of the folks who end up radicalized and potentially going to Syria do it by first migrating as labour migrants to Russia and then becoming radicalized in Russia.
I think all of these countries play up the threat and indeed perceive the threat as greater than it actually is. If you dig into it, we're talking about really small numbers of people. They do carry out the occasional attack. You can also get, particularly in Russia—the case that I know best—situations where things are termed radical Islamist violent attacks when in fact they might be something else, because it's an easy way to make sure you get rid of these folks.
The problem is there. The problem is probably smaller than it appears to officials, and it's smaller than it's built up to be. I think in some ways that actually helps it to grow, because when you crack down on every observant Muslim, you might then force more people into more radical and potentially more violent tendencies than they might have had if they were allowed to worship peacefully.