By John Helmer, Moscow
Chrystia Freeland, a leading figure in the Ukrainian and Canadian campaigns against Russia, was promoted last week in Ottawa to become Canada’s foreign minister. She is now one step away in her plan to replace Justin Trudeau as prime minister, sources in Ottawa, Washington, and Moscow report.
There was a hitch in the plan, though. Freeland had been hoping for a senior ministry when Trudeau took power in November 2015. Instead, he gave her the low-ranked international trade portfolio to keep her out of Canada as often as possible. Freeland then counted on Hillary Clinton to win the US presidential election last November, in order to persuade Trudeau she had better relationships in the coming Washington administration than the incumbent foreign minister, Stéphane Dion. The election of Donald Trump, with whom Freeland has no relationship and no agreement either, disappointed but didn’t deter her.
Trudeau has also accepted the Freeland scheme, and also for a Clinton reason. Trudeau will be safer in the prime ministry, Ottawa sources believe, if Freeland follows the Clinton role model into public acrimony, private hysteria, then defeat.
The usually dignified Dion departed his office last week, not by saying he wished Freeland well, but that he wished her luck. He meant Freeland, whom he blamed along with Trudeau for his abrupt ouster, would need it.
“For one year”, Dion (right) said, intimating that he had been caught unawares, “Prime Minister Justin Trudeau gave me the honour of being his Minister of Foreign Affairs. As is his privilege, he has just entrusted this great responsibility to another person. I wish Chrystia the best of luck.” Freeland’s supporters crowded into the Canadian media to celebrate. Dion’s supporters say he was ambushed repeatedly during his short tenure, made to take the blame in public for policies decided by others, while being kept away from decisions that were Dion’s prerogative to take, but his rivals pre-empted. This version of Dion’s ambush gives all the credit for the conspiracy to Trudeau. Another Canadian source suggests Trudeau isn’t clever enough, and that more than half the credit for the plot should go to Freeland herself.
In Brussels, sources who report on NATO say that among the military alliance leaders Trudeau’s reputation for low intelligence “approaches, if it doesn’t exceed” that of Anders Fogh Rasmussen, the former Danish prime minister who was NATO secretary-general between 2009 and 2014.
Officially, the Russian reaction to Freeland’s appointment as foreign minister has been as non-committal as possible. “We don’t know,” said the ministry spokesman Maria Zakharova on December 12, “what the [Canadian] priorities will be. I think that it is necessary to be guided by specific acts and the specific program which, probably, the Ministry of Foreign Affairs of Canada will build. After that, we will comment and, perhaps, take some actions.” Responding to the fact that the Russian Government announced counter-sanctions against Canada, including a travel ban on Freeland in 2014, Zakharova said: “I would like to remind everyone that in spite of the fact that many headlines say ‘the Foreign Minister of Canada is included in the Russian sanctions lists’, the situation is a little not so. [Freeland’s name] was not placed on the sanctions lists as the Foreign Minister of Canada; she was included in the lists in 2014 as a response measure of the Russian side. First came the sanctions lists accepted [from the US] by Canada concerning Russian citizens, including Russian officials. Respectively, the Russian list was retaliation for this action of Canada’s. I think that for the answer to when and under what circumstances people [like Freeland] can be removed from this list, it is necessary to look at the rule of reciprocity.”
For the current lists of Canadian sanctions against Russia, click to open.
Freeland reacted swiftly, announcing on the government television network CBC, “we wouldn’t look at lifting sanctions. The sanctions were imposed by the previous government but with strong support from us in opposition in response to very clear violations of international law by Russia with the invasion and annexation of Crimea and for a war against Ukraine in the Donbass.”
A year ago, Foreign Minister Seregei Lavrov had said Canadian sanctions were the result of a Russophobic government pushed by “rabid” Ukrainians”. “Canada is an influential, respected member of the [community of] international relations. We have had ups and downs in our relations from time to time. We saw such downs in the period of the government of Stephen Harper. The last two years were generally a period of lost opportunities with respect to Canada, when suddenly the previous [Harper] government sharply took a Russophobic line and curtailed bilateral ties, imposed sanctions against Russian individuals and legal entities, suspended cooperation in the intergovernmental commission on trade and economic issues.”
“We were surprised by the complete absence of any pragmatism in those impulsive actions that the previous government made. It took a course with totally blind adherence to the requirement of rabid representatives of the Ukrainian diaspora in Canada.”
Lavrov added that Russia was hoping that Trudeau’s takeover from Harper would correct the “mistakes of predecessors.”
In the year which has followed, President Vladimir Putin has almost totally ignored Canada and Trudeau. The Kremlin announced that he had sent greetings to Trudeau on December 30, 2015, and again last month. In the 2015 message Putin had told Trudeau “he expects to see constructive development of Russian-Canadian ties in the coming year in all areas – from trade and the economy to sport, with our traditionally fierce but friendly hockey battles.” In Putin’s latest message, he added a birthday greeting for Trudeau (born on December 25, 1971), expressing “confidence that the strengthening of bilateral cooperation and the development of partnership in opening up the Arctic and in other fields meet the interests of the both countries’ people.”
During the election campaign of 2015, Trudeau had called for “pushing back against the bully that is Vladimir Putin”. Trudeau also claimed that after the election, when he met Putin at the G20 summit conference in Turkey on November 16 of that year (pictured below), he had “a fairly direct exchange with him where I pointed out that his actions in Ukraine were illegitimate and irresponsible.”
The Russian side says the conversation was brief, and no such statement was made. According to Putin, “the prime minister himself said when we were at G20 in Antalya that he thinks how we should re-establish the relations in full. We welcome this . . . and will get down to this task, to work together.”
Last Friday Freeland told Canadian reporters she had met Putin at the Asia Pacific Economic Cooperation (APEC) summit meeting in Peru last November. This was the first time she had made the disclosure. “I’ve spoken with the top guy in Russia quite recently,” Freeland told her state radio. “We spoke in Russian and we had quite a long conversation.” The Kremlin records no such conversation took place, a spokesman for the president adding: “Vladimir Putin did not have a meeting with Freeland.”
Unofficially, the Russian assessment – based on contacts with the Foreign Ministry, veteran diplomats, and Russian oligarchs with Canadian business interests — is that Canada is a minor country whose international role-playing is either that of a foil to the US, as when Pierre Trudeau , Justin’s father, was prime minister and opposed the US on the Vietnam War; or the role of a puppet and echo of Washington. The Russian oligarch connexions have included Roman Abramovich’s attempt at goldmining with Peter Munk, founder of Barrick Gold; Oleg Deripaska’s scheme for acquiring the Opel car company with Frank Stronach of the Magna Corporation; and Alexei Mordashov’s goldmining ventures with Frank Giustra. The contacts have all ended unsuccessfully, as the Russians see it.
From left to right: Peter Munk, Peter Mandelson, then EU commissioner for trade; Oleg Deripaska, on an ill-fated trip to visit Deripaska’s assets in Siberia. Their trip was exposed by a London newspaper and subsequent UK court rulings; for details of Munk’s and Deripaska’s scheming, read this.
Russian and Canadian sources also believe Freeland had been plotting Dion’s ouster since the two of them both contended for a senior ministry post in November 2015. Dion won; Freeland lost. Freeland is a bad loser and goes into hysterical rages when crossed, her associates at the Financial Times remember. Hillary Clinton, too — according to US press reports of her behaviour on election night last November, when she reportedly wept, swore, screamed, and was incapable of making the traditional concession speech.
Look carefully again at the official Canadian government photograph of the swearing-in of Trudeau’s first cabinet on November 4, 2015:
That’s Foreign Minister Dion to the right of Freeland, who sits between Dion and the prime minister. In the normal Canadian protocol, Freeland ranked 13th and should have stood in the second row behind Trudeau. Two other economic policymakers who were appointed above Freeland in rank – Finance Minister Bill Morneau and Minister of Economic Development Navdeep Singh Bains were obliged to stand behind her in the second row. Freeland also employed the Nancy Reagan ploy of being the only woman to wear red. For details of Freeland’s first see-red plot, read this.
Freeland’s political scheming has been spelled out by sources who know her and her husband, a New York-based journalist named Graham Bowley who reports mainly on the art market and the troubles of former comedian, Bill Cosby. Bowley also doubles as an expert on Russian cyber-warfare, and on how undemocratic Clinton’s defeat was in November.
Freeland wasn’t exceptional in expecting Clinton to win. Local polls show that 79% of Canadians thought the same. Sources in a position to know claim Freeland had been plotting Dion’s downfall in the expectation that she would appear to be the natural counterparty in Ottawa for Clinton in Washington. Without Clinton to boost Freeland’s further chances for a shot at the Canadian prime ministry, the sources believe Trudeau and his advisors are setting her up to fail with the Trump Administration.
Trudeau’s reading of the domestic polls is that foreign policy issues like the conflict with Russia and the wars in Syria and the Ukraine are of next to no importance to Canadian voters. Legalization of marijuana is more important, according to this poll in mid-December. The Canadian priority is the economy, the poll also reported. Two-thirds of Canadians now think Trudeau’s performance in office is more style than substance. That percentage is up eight points since the government’s one-year anniversary, just over a month ago.
Trudeau’s grip on popularity is misleading, reported the Toronto Sun two weeks ago. “According to a Nanos-IRPP Mood of Canada survey released this week, just 15% of people rate the performance of the federal Liberal government as ‘very good’, a plunge of 22% in just one year. Overall, 54% of Canadians believe Trudeau and his Liberal government are leading the country in the right direction, down 9% over the same time period. ‘This concept of Justin Trudeau being exceptionally popular is actually empirically untrue because his scores, for example, on the performance of the federal government are very similar to (former Conservative prime minister) Stephen Harper at the same point in Stephen Harper’s mandate,’ Nanos said Wednesday. ‘So I think this survey is a bit of a reality check.’”
Canadian political analysts believe Freeland’s ambition to capitalize as Trudeau weakens will not be advanced by either Trump or Putin. According to one of the sources, “in her frustration, Freeland will make the personality mistakes for which she’s known. Trudeau, having neutralized Freeland’s capacity to do him harm, will then get rid of her, like he has Dion – with the offer of an ambassadorship she will consider beneath her dignity – and her pocketbook.”