The relations between Ukraine and Canada have been rather complicated in the recent years, despite the fact that the world’s largest Ukrainian Diaspora lives there. Why is it so hard to have a dialogue between Kyiv and Ottawa, between the Ukrainian government and Ukrainian Diaspora in Canada? The Day tried to find out the answer to this question in an interview with the Ukrainian Ambassador to Canada Vadym PRYSTAIKO, who became the head of the diplomatic mission of Ukraine in Canada. He is a very open diplomat. You can often meet him on the streets of Ottawa. On his way to the embassy – he walked there, Canadians would come up to him to say Hi and ask about how he was doing…
Mr. Prystaiko, you have received an engineering degree, graduated from the Kyiv Polytechnic Institute. Why did you decide to choose a career of a diplomat after all?
“After graduating from Kyiv Polytechnic Institute I even worked for a small company with a few employees called ElVisti, which still operates. It was founded by two engineers and I was one of the four students. I would like to send greetings to all of them and I think that they now work there because I left (smiles). After that I got a job as a programmer in the Ministry of Commerce. But over time it became less and less interesting and important.”
You got interested in trade, how did this lead you to diplomacy?
“I graduated from the Academy of International Trade and received Master’s degree in International Trade. Later I got a job at the Ministry of Foreign Affairs – the department that dealt with Asia and Africa. Then I went to Australia and little by little I came to where I am now. It’s been 20 years already.”
Then, here is a serious question: why is it so difficult to communicate with the Ukrainian Diaspora in Canada? Why is there no dialogue, contact with the most “Ukrainian state,” as they call Canada?
“The event that is taking place now [‘Ukraine’s Model’ held in Ottawa from October 16 through 18. – Author] was not organized by the Ukrainian community. Ukrainian interns is one of the programs of one of the organizations of the Ukrainian community. There are 1,300,000 people living and hundreds of organizations operating here. It is an important project that was founded 20 years ago. You can’t say that there is no contact with the community. Above them all is the Ukrainian Canadian Congress (UCC), which has a structure that includes all organizations. That’s why you can’t say that Ukrainian government does not have contact. This would be a very radical statement.
“I, for example, maintain contact not only with the UCC, but also with individual organizations. Of course, I cannot reach out to 1,300,000 people, but, obviously, not all of them want to communicate. But we have connections with many organizations. That’s why I can’t say that we don’t have mutual understanding. On the other hand, it is clear that the community has its own vision of how Ukraine should be built and developed. Some observations are just, while others are quite unjust. There is a certain degree of misunderstanding in every community, there are also psychological aspects. For example, part of the Ukrainian community emigrated here 70 years ago. They have no idea about the modern Ukraine. They read in newspapers that there is corruption in Ukraine, there are problems with democracy, the former prime minister is in prison, people speak Russian on the streets. Such things, indeed, are happening in our country, but it all is a part of the development of a large country, which undergoes complex processes.”
Perhaps, the problem lies in communication, in the fact that they receive information from their own sources and not directly from Ukraine?
“Some believe that the information they receive privately is sufficient. They don’t want to hear any official reports because they believe that ‘a friend or a relative of mine told me and it must be true.’ Sometimes I see this aspect.”
One Canadian MP, who asked not to be named, said that if Yanukovych comes, large-scale protests will be organized here…
“I have met with people who told me that they would want the president to come to Canada. A person, who holds a very high position in the community said: ‘He has to listen to us and the things we want to tell him. But we can say right away what our greatest concern is: no recognition of historical truth. OUN-UPA, the issue of Russification, language issues, and Kharkiv Gas Agreement. But we would like the president of Ukraine to come. Even though there will always be a significant group of people, who would say: don’t let him come over!’”
What can you say about the suspension of the negotiations on FTA between Canada and Ukraine?
“Recently, everyone’s got interested in this matter. Today the Canadian Embassy in Kyiv commented on my yesterday’s comment that Canada will not resume talks until Ukraine doesn’t give up its claims in the WTO. I think that one shall never say never, because this is the negotiation process. You should not say that ‘we will never resume talks,’ and then ‘let’s negotiate.’ It is better to say: ‘let’s come up with something reasonable.’”
They explained it by the fact that the demands of the Ukrainian side concerned Canadian agricultural products and it became an issue.
“We suggested to start the negotiations with the revision. We have reserved time until the end of 2014, which we can use for negotiating. When we applied to the WTO, we had a certain period of time, when those, who are not satisfied with something, can initiate negotiations. This is a civilized way. If Canadians would have said that they were not satisfied with something, it would be a civilized way. An agreement on bilateral free trade allows any part to review any tariffs. If people in Canada do not like the tariffs, which they would like to change in the WTO, there is a trade agreement for that, which was designed specifically to provide, along with the general arrangements, the possibility for direct negotiations between the parties. This is the mechanism that allows to hold negotiations, but they say: no, we won’t use it until you abandon it. And then I must say that the trade with Canada is not that significant, it is only 0.2 percent of the total trade of Ukraine. With all due respect to Canada, I am an Ambassador here and I would like to see greater trade volumes. I am currently working on it. It’s not very interesting for Ukraine and there is the same problem in Canada. We need Canada no more than Canada needs Ukraine. Canada is just a country that lives mostly by the principle of superiority. They believe that they can fiddle with an agreement saying yes and no the way they want, but we also have other partners: Russia, the EU, China, and other countries, our neighbors.”
Some say that the Canadian business should be presented more in Ukraine following the national connections, language. Why is this not happening?
“The head of the Canadian Chamber of Commerce just said in an interview that we had hoped for this agreement, which would open up opportunities, would reduce problems at border crossing, transportation of our gas and power equipment, would remove some customs problems, inconsistency in documents, and more. That means that the agreement was intended to facilitate the conditions. And it seemed like a right thing to do. I now see that there is a political aspect to all of that. The problems with the WTO are not enough to abandon it. Neither the US, nor Europe, with whom we plan to sign an Association Agreement in November, have refused to negotiate. The only side that refused to negotiate was the Canadians. And we must bear in mind that this is a very long process. We have already had six rounds of negotiations. And the agreement was almost ready.”
What is the problem here: is it about the Canadian values, which are special, according to the Canadians, and multiculturalism is better than the American melting pot?
“I don’t want to judge other people’s values. And I hope that nobody will judge the values of my country. They are basically described in the Ten Commandments.
“Indeed, past year, when the hearings on Ukraine took place, they were radically critical and even at the end some said: let’s punish them somehow until they change. And there the free trade agreement was clearly mentioned.
“That’s why, I, as an ambassador, have every right to say that I read the protocol in which certain political forces suggested to stop negotiations until the release of Yulia Tymoshenko. If we would talk with each other in terms of ultimatums and would claim that if you don’t do this, we won’t sign the FTA agreement between Ukraine and Canada, where will this lead us?”
Is Canadian large business willing to come to Ukraine as it has been done by US companies that will extract shale gas in Ukraine? What is holding them back?
“Canadians are hesitant because they cannot afford what the large American business does, in particular, they can’t spend 100 million dollars on research. If nothing worked out, not a big deal, we’ll find another way to make money. Canadian companies are not as big, but they are represented powerfully around the world. They are now cautiously investigating the opportunities of getting subcontracting. Some companies want subcontracts for preserving discharged water in purification or drilling. Besides, we already have companies present at our market, in the Black Sea shelf. Most of them work in the energy sector in Canada.
“Yesterday I met with company representatives (I can’t tell its name), which is planning to make serious investment in the Ukrainian steel industry. They have actually completed the negotiations and hope to begin work on the site already this year.”
As you know, in November the Head of the Ukrainian parliament will come with an official visit to Canada. What should Ukraine expect from this visit?
“We expect that the Ukrainian speaker will meet both the speaker of the Senate and the speaker of the House of Commons. We also plan that the friendship groups will establish connection. The speaker will bring the members of this newly created group, consisting of representatives of all the Ukrainian parties, with him. It is a very nice gesture.
“We plan a meeting with the Minister of Migration because we want to seriously discuss migration and visa issues. We have also scheduled meetings with the country’s top officials and the Ukrainian community.”