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Canada closes airspace to Russia

Also, Canada and other countries are looking at taking Russian state broadcasters off the air.
Feb. 28, 2022
Tonda MacCharles

Western countries including Canada closed their skies to Russian aircraft, moved to block Russian propaganda and disinformation, and worked to isolate Russia further at the United Nations as President Vladimir Putin’s attack on Ukraine continued despite a Kremlin invitation to talk peace.

As part of the growing global push to help beat back the Russian invasion, Canada also announced another $25 million worth of defensive equipment to send to Ukraine.

Federal Transport Minister Omar Alghabra announced Sunday an indefinite ban on Russian-owned or operated aircraft in Canadian airspace and over territorial waters, as countries in Europe announced airspace closures of varying durations.

As well, Canada and other countries are looking at taking Russian state broadcasters off the air. On sunday, several of Canada’s biggest television providers said they would remove the Russian state-owned network RT from their channel listings.

RT has been accused of being a propaganda network for the Russian government. Bell Canada said it would stop carrying the network as of Sunday, with Rogers and Shaw to end it on Monday.

In Ottawa, Foreign Affairs Minister Melanie Joly said, “Canada will continue to do everything it can against the Russian regime’s aggression. We are united with our allies in our unwavering support to Ukraine and are working to bring this unprovoked war to an end.”

Joly and Defence Minister Anita Anand held a press conference on Sunday afternoon, announcing $25 million in defensive equipment for Ukraine, according to The Canadian Press.

Joly said the equipment includes helmets, body armour, gas masks and night-vision gear, to be routed through Poland to arrive as quickly as possible.

Anand added that Canada will offer up cybersecurity experts to help Ukraine “defend its networks against cyberattacks that are increasingly forming part of modern-day warfare.” She also said the Canadian Armed Forces will send extra airlift help, with the first aircraft to leave for Europe Monday.

“The intent is for it to be used by NATO and in support of the delivery of this aid,” she said, adding that a combat mission to Ukraine is not currently on the table.

Ahead of a G7 foreign ministers meeting, European Commission President Ursula von der Leyen said for the first time in its history the European Union will buy and deliver weapons and equipment to a country under attack.

“This is a watershed moment,” she said.

In addition, Europe will ban Russian aircraft from landing, taking off or overflying Europe “including the private jets of oligarchs,” strengthen sanctions hitting Putin’s ally Belarus, and “ban the Kremlin’s media machine in the EU.”

That means state-owned Russia Today and Sputnik, and their subsidiaries, “will no longer be able to spread their lies to justify Putin’s war and to sow division in our union,” she said.

“Putin embarked on a path aiming to destroy Ukraine. But what he is also doing, in fact, is destroying the future of his own country.”

Following on weekend decisions by major Western allies to cut off major Russian banks from the global financial transaction system, known as SWIFT, and an announcement by Germany to send Ukraine weapons and 500 Stinger missiles, Putin said Ukraine and Russian negotiators should meet.

As Ukraine President Volodymyr Zelenskyy sent a team to the border with Belarus to meet Putin’s envoys, a statement issued by the Ukrainian embassy in Ottawa attributed to Zelenskyy said, “We want peace. We want to meet to end the war.

“We proposed to the Russian side to hold negotiations in Warsaw, Bratislava, Budapest, Istanbul or Baku. Ukraine is ready for the negotiations with Russia in any country ... but not in Belarus.”

The embassy summarized heavy fighting in Ukraine overnight, saying at least 210 people have been killed, and more than 1,100 people injured including 100 children.

It also said that Ukrainian troops had hit Russian troops, downing 27 aircraft, 26 helicopters, 146 tanks as well as hundreds of vehicles, tanks and one anti-missile aircraft system.

In an interview with the Star, Bob Rae, Canada’s ambassador to the United Nations, said the war, and the world’s perception of it, is shifting quickly, dramatically, and “significantly.”

“My assessment is it’s the resistance of the Ukrainian people, the incredible stamina that they’ve shown in the face of overwhelming force from the Russians, and the leadership of President Zelenskyy has really galvanized the world.”

“I don’t think it’s just a few governments. I think this is a major sea shift in public opinion. And that can change everything.”

As a result, Western allies are showing a willingness to move off “previously fixed positions,” he said, with the biggest shift by Germany.

“I think Germany’s leadership on the banking and financial sanctions has been remarkable and their shift on the defence side and the supply of weaponry is also extraordinarily significant.”

Rae said there has been a shift in opinion at the UN as well over the past several days, and he was optimistic a procedural vote Sunday at the Security Council, where Russia has a veto, will shift debate to the general assembly.

Rae said a resolution of condemnation of Russia’s actions could pass early this week.

“It would give a clear reflection of where opinion is and what’s more it would provide a really powerful endorsement of the principles at stake here. It is the territorial integrity of Ukraine. It is the principle of sovereign equality at the United Nations. And it is based on the principle there should be no aggression.”

“This is not solely a Western or European issue,” he said. “Some of the most eloquent speeches have been given by African and Asian permanent representatives who understand that what the Russians have done is completely unacceptable.

“It’s the old bully boy power politics of the past that has always bedevilled world peace, and having people swagger around thinking they’re above the law, that they make the law, that they can break them -- that has always offended smaller and more vulnerable countries and middle powers that aren’t the superpowers, so I think there’s a very strong feeling this is not the way this should go.”

Rae underlined Canada’s political ministers have used relationships with Ukraine counterparts to bridge discussions among allies.

However, Rae said it’s unlikely Canada would -- as the Conservative party called for on Saturday -- expel the Russian ambassador and recall Canada’s envoy in Moscow.

He said it’s valuable to “understand what’s happening on the ground in Moscow” by keeping diplomatic communication channels open along with the “capacity to observe at all times.”