While the US news cycle deals with the elusive ghost of collusion with Russia, and the backdoor negotiations to do away with the Magnitsky Act—which punishes human rights abusers—the first sign of Canada's intention to adopt its own version of the US-sanctioned Act did not bode well for the short-term future of relations with Russia.
The Canadian House of Commons approved with a majority the adoption of the Law on the victims of corrupt foreign governments. This led Russia—which sees the legislation as yet another extension of Western sanctions following the annexation of Crimea—to react swiftly, in a manner that went beyond the accepted diplomatic language standards. While the act was not yet officially implemented, the Russian government's strong stance appeared to be aimed at achieving two objectives: To show that the move will in no way change Russia's future political decisions, and—less likely—to influence the legislation's potential reversal by a higher authority.
Major Russian outlet Vedomosti (03/10/2017) was among the country's publications to voice Russia's resolve for retaliatory measures should the act be adopted by Canada's parliament. Kirill Kalinin, the press-secretary of the Russian Embassy in Ottawa, was quoted as saying that the Canadian parliament's plan to adopt the legislation is an undisguised intervention in Russia's internal affairs, which will not remain unanswered. The diplomat also said that that such a decision 'contradicts common sense and Canadian national interests, isolating Canada from one of the world's key states.' Russia state news agency TASS (03/10/2017) added more punch as per Mr Kalinin's words in that “this is a hostile step, like any anti-Russian sanctions, and will be met with countermeasures.”
The news was accepted with much greater jubilation from Russia's western neighbours, Ukraine in particular, which welcomes every opportunity to increase international pressure against Russian aggression across its eastern border regions. Ukrainian publication Depo UA (18/10/2017) shared Ukraine ambassador to Canada, Andriy Shevchenko's post on Twitter:
While Latvian outlet Delfi (05/10/2017) offered a more balanced take at the update, noting that the Magnitsky Act was passed unanimously by 277 Canadian parliament MPs, it also highlighted Russia's shock at the news, even though the law does not specifically target Russian officials but rather all people involved in human rights violations overseas.
When news broke that Magnitsky Act received Royal Assent and came into force in Canada, Foreign Minister Chrystia Freeland was quoted saying “Canada has a worldwide reputation as a country that cherishes democratic values and protects human rights,” in Vedomosti. (19/10/2017). Russian officials immediately responded with a set of stern announcements. Sergey Zheleznyak, a member of the Russian Parliament's Foreign Relations Committee, said: "Following in the footsteps of its senior partner, the United States, Canada, unfortunately, demonstrates a lack of independent foreign policy."
"The adoption of the US-style Magnitsky Act looks like an unjustified political manoeuvre by the Canadian authorities, which negatively affects the relations between our countries," he added. Sergey Ryabkov, Russia's deputy Foreign Minister, later announced that Canada's adoption of its own Magnitsky Act is unacceptable. "We reach the only conclusion from the decision in Canada, politicians continue to set the tone about the insignificance of bilateral relations with Russia, they pursue their own political goals, try to play cheap geopolitical games," Ryabkov said in Rossiskaya Gazeta. (23/10/2017). None other than the Russian Embassy in Canada produced some of the harshest reaction words on Twitter, claiming that “the law was signed in a hurry, and is an irrational decision supported by a fraudster and tax evader, as well as haters of Russia.” (Vesti, 19/10/2017).
This type of strong-worded statement was shared by the better part of Russian-based publications, which were negative to neutral in their reporting on the Magnitsky Act adoption. There is no surprise, meanwhile, that the Canadian Parliament's decision was mostly welcomed by the Ukrainian media, who see Canada as one of the country's closest allies against Russia's illegal manoeuvres in Crimea and Donbass, and the marked leader in the international coalition supporting Ukraine. As Ukrainian-language source Liga (19/10/2017) put it, “Canada officially approved its own Magnitsky Act, which provides for sanctions against human rights abusers in Russia and the world,” highlighting Minister Chrystia Freeland's words: “This new law, which has received the support of all parliamentary parties, clearly demonstrates that Canada is taking all measures to respond to serious human rights violations and significant instances of corruption overseas."
Canada's official adoption of the Magnitsky Act is simply another piece in a global geopolitical puzzle, which becomes increasingly unpredictable with the rapidly shifting political sands across the world. The nuance that lives within languages. especially when controversy or passion are involved, is where the heart of the story lies. Monitoring and understanding the logic behind global news streams is one efficient way of putting some of those pieces together. Doing so with first hand understanding of the complexities of those nuances makes the translation of information that much more effective and important to Canadian thinkers and readers.
Written by: Filip Merdinian and the European Media Team