That same gutsy leadership in foreign policy shown by former prime ministers is needed now

Diane Francis

Oct 25, 2022

Financial Post

In 1985, former prime minister Brian Mulroney spearheaded international sanctions by Commonwealth nations against the apartheid regime in South Africa. His leadership contributed greatly to the country’s liberation. Another high point occurred when Canada became the first Western nation to recognize Ukraine’s independence from Russia in 1991.

At home, Ottawa should more aggressively target Russian oligarchs and officials for sanctions, suggested anti-Putin activist William Browder last week while in Toronto. Browder has successfully convinced 35 countries to adopt his Magnitsky Act sanctions, so named after Sergei Magnitsky who was murdered by law enforcement officials after uncovering tax fraud.

So far, about $123 million worth of Russian assets in Canada were frozen, according to the RCMP, a number Browder considers “laughable,” according to reporting by the Post’s John Ivison. “My own experience with the RCMP was that we found money connected to Magnitsky’s murder here and reported it and gave evidence. But they (the RCMP) refused to open a proper criminal investigation, which is different than in other countries,” he said.

Most importantly, Browder’s latest campaign is to get Western nations to transfer to Ukraine all of the $350 billion in Russian assets that were frozen in central banks around the world immediately after the invasion. Most are in Europe, but $100 billion is in the U.S. These funds could pay for Ukraine’s war effort and reconstruction. Canada has been at the forefront of this initiative, but legislation here and in the United States still requires approval.

Fortunately, German Finance Minister Christian Lindner supports handing frozen funds to Ukraine, as do a number of other European leaders. The European Commission estimates that as much as $600 billion will be needed to rebuild Ukraine which is why countries are eyeing the frozen assets of the Russian Central Bank.

Legal objections have been raised about this transfer, but Browder says “it’s Russian government money, it launched the war, and the seizure is punishment, not a legal issue. This would make the most material difference for Ukraine going forward to get this $350 billion. It would also silence those concerned about the flood of money out of NATO countries to pay for a war to stop Putin.”

Canada should step up by pulling its weight militarily as well as diplomatically.