Russians who may be dissidents should not be refused visas, says Joly

Dylan Robertson, The Canadian Press

OTTAWA — Foreign Affairs Minister Mélanie Joly says we should not follow the example of European countries that ban Russians from obtaining visas, arguing that the threat is growing for Russian dissidents.

Joly also said Russia should be prosecuted for illegally invading Ukraine, a view Moscow rejected while adding dozens of Canadians to its blacklist on Thursday.

Russian President Vladimir Putin has been pushing to recruit more fighters for his war in Ukraine after Kyiv recaptured large swathes of territory.

“Obviously what we’re doing is working, but we need to do more,” Ms. Joly told reporters on a Thursday call from New York.

She argued the regime was becoming desperate, posing a risk to dissidents.

This is why the minister rejected Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky’s demands that Western countries stop issuing visas to Russians.

Ms. Joly maintained that there were Russian soldiers who were essentially ready to defy the authorities and who were deserting the ranks of the armed forces and fleeing the battlefield in Ukraine.

“There are a lot of Russians who want to leave Russia,” the Canadian minister said, saying the visa bans are unfair to people who disagree with Moscow.

The Russian Embassy agreed with Canada on this point.

“We can agree with Minister Joly that a visa ban is a policy of collective punishment,” said Artem Kalabukhov, political counselor at the Russian Embassy in Ottawa.

This week, four occupied regions of Ukraine announced referendums on whether to join Russia. Ms. Joly called them “phony referendums,” which Russia could use as a premise to claim that Ukraine is the aggressor in this war.

She also said Canada was working with allies to see if existing international tribunals, or even a new one, could prosecute Russia for illegally invading Ukraine.

In an interview, Mr. Kalabukhov dismissed these characterizations.

He echoed Kremlin talking points that the 2014 Ukrainian uprising led to violence that never went to trial, and dismissed international investigations into reported mass graves in Izium and Bucha as “a staged provocation.” “.

Mr. Kalabukhov also pointed to President Zelensky’s statement a year ago that residents of the occupied Donbass region who identify as Russians should move to that country.

However, Russia justified its annexation of Crimea in 2014 with a referendum that many human rights groups say was done under threat.

François Legault on Russia’s blacklist

On Thursday, Russia’s Foreign Ministry announced it had added 87 Canadian citizens to what it called a “blacklist” that prohibits entry into Russia.

The new names include military officials, lieutenant governors, prime ministers like Francois Legault, and members of the nonpartisan group The Parliamentary Center, which campaigns for democracy abroad.

Bombardier President and CEO Eric Martel and heads of various tech companies that donated to Ukraine or discussed the possibility of supplying equipment to its military were also sanctioned.

Mr. Kalabukhov said the additions were in direct response to Canada’s existing sanctions, which Ms. Joly vowed on Thursday to step up soon.

“All these sanctions against Russia are symbolic in nature and incapable of affecting the Russian economy, and the Canadian government knows this very well,” he argued.

Ms. Joly said she will deliver a national address on Monday with a particular focus on Canada’s support for Ukraine.

The Congress of Ukrainian Canadians has called for a visa ban, arguing that Russia’s actions constitute genocide that should deny its citizens the privilege of traveling abroad.

Congress President Ihor Michalchyshyn also called on Canada to send more weapons to Ukraine, which Ms Joly said she was considering.

“The sooner the Russian armies are defeated, the sooner peace will return to Europe,” Michalchyshyn wrote.

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