Eurointegrators: Interview with ambassador of Canada to Ukraine Roman Waschuk (12.12.2018)

In “Eurointegrators,” media expert and ex-Deputy Minister for Information Policy of Ukraine Tetiana Popova sits down with diplomats, heads of international organizations, and Ukrainian power brokers to discuss Ukraine’s European integration.

In this episode, the guest is ambassador of Canada to Ukraine Roman Waschuk and head of Medical cannabis association of Ukraine Taras Ratushnyy.

The show is produced by a Ukrainian NGO Information Security and Oboz.TV.

See the text version of the interview: 

Popova: Hello. I present today a new episode of the “Eurointegrators” program, and my guest today is the Ambassador of Canada to Ukraine Mr. Roman Waschuk. The escalation of the situation in Azov Sea is in all world media now. Do Canadians understand what is going on? And what is your recommendation how to solve this problem?

Waschuk: I think Canadians by large get it . I had the occasion to do briefings for two groups of Canadian parliamentarians from all of our political parties, and they all understood what was its state – this is a case of acts of aggression against Ukraine in this case now on the part of the Russian FSB and other Russian state agencies. The Canadian media has also generally portrait things I’d say correctly. And there is a great desire to support Ukraine at this difficult time. What can be done? I think everybody’s seen various statements that have come out. Canada was with one of the strongest statements. But statements are not enough. Ukraine is a little bit tired of just hearing statements of concerns, deep at most, whatever kinds of concern from people. I was with our Minister of Foreign Affairs in Brussel at the NATO’s Foreign Ministers last week. She then went on to Milan to the OSCE Meeting and actively networking to move from statements to actions. We are working with some our closer partners on a package, a bit early to say what it would be, but certainly it would be things that would affect Russian interests, not only try to appeal to the better angels of President Putin’s nature.

Popova: Okay, but we see that previously implemented sanctions, they are important of course, but they are not hurting Russia’s economy, oil prices are hurting it rather more. So, it should be something more serious?

Waschuk: I think it should be something more directed. This is a shipping and naval crisis at the moment. So that’s one of the things we are looking at. The sort of the merry time aspect of this. But again, I don’t want to get out of head of any ministries…

Popova: Until it will be voted, yes? Canada helps Ukraine a lot with the army, with reforms in the army, with advisers, with weapons. What are the main expectations in a future?

Waschuk: Operation UNIFIRE consist of about 200 Canadian arm forces personnel, who are in Ukraine generally on 6 months rotations. We are now on rotation 7. So it’s been going on since early 2015. We’ve seen major progress in how the Ukrainian military operates at the tactical level. Like we are now looking to see how can change happen at the more operational and strategic level. We are working on revising the Ukrainian curriculum for training sergeants and non-commissioned personnel, because that’s really the kind of the scenarios of a military that makes things happen or not, depending on how you got it done. We have helped to reshape a sniper school and that links in turn then into the Ukrainian Ministry of Defense buying sniper rifles from Canadian manufacturers. So we’d like to see the look at these capabilities. It’s not just stuff and it’s not just training. All these things have to somehow fit together to be able to provide the deterrence that Ukraine needs.

Popova: When do you think Ukraine will be ready for closer cooperation with NATO?

Waschuk: Ukraine is already quite capable in number areas. Often these are political decisions that take into account a whole checklist of things that Ukraine has or hasn’t done. The law on National Security is a major step forward, but it in turn requires both Ukrainian Parliament and government take a whole range of other measures – make certain changes in how the SBU operates, look at the relation between…

Popova: There was no reform of the SBU at all.

Waschuk: But the law “on National Security” says there should be.

Popova: Yes.

Waschuk: So basically, once you take a step A, then you also committed to taking steps B and C. So, these are the things that we are looking forward in 2019 and 2020 and so on. So, there is a range of things that still need to be done. We have a Canadian general here who has been talking to people in the Ministry of Defense and General Staff on how command and control issues can best be synergize here to maximize the resources you have got. There is no magic NATO formula. I think maybe sometimes here in Ukraine there is a little bit illusion that there is one single NATO model, and you just have to achieve that and then it’s all done.

Popova: I think there is a lot of different KPI’s.

Waschuk: A lot, but also every country picks which ones are the most important for it. Canada doesn’t have a big military, we can’t do everything that every NATO KPI requires, so we pick from the many of those that make sense for us. And so partly it’s a matter of working with Ukraine to figure out what is that you need right now in the medium term and in the long term to have a sustainable force that actually deters outside aggression.

Popova: The question is what do you think is lacking Ukraine in MoD or General Staff reform?

Waschuk: I think there are needs to be more flexibility in thinking, in HR policy, something we ourselves discovered let’s say in an early and mid-2000s when we launched a large operation in Kandahar province, in Afghanistan, that some of the old approaches, that some of the old people that we had, didn’t work. It was a very rapid chaotic environment. And I think that’s a part of work that still needs to be done. I think the MoD knows the Road Map and it’ll be a matter of working on that. One of the things you’ve got written into your laws in Ukraine that there has to be a defense review after the Presidential election. So that I think will be that something people be thinking long and hard about in the first half of 2019.

Popova: Do you think they are ready to change their old approaches to new?

Waschuk: I think that will depend on the political signals they get from the authorities and they are certainly getting a lot of ideas about how you can do it from us and from other partners.

Popova: The Ukrainian diaspora in Canada is quite large and influence I believe sometimes even in political, parliament and government decisions.

Waschuk: Every Canadian influences decisions.

Popova: But there is also the Russian diaspora. How does the Russian diaspora see the situation in Ukraine?

Waschuk: You know, I think they are like all other Canadians, there is a variety of views, and there are some people in Russian community, who’ve come out to demos in support of Ukraine. Others probably who hang out with the Russian Internet or watch Russian TV and have a different approach, but they are not terribly loud and they are not terribly organized. So, Canada is not a #1 country for Russian influence operations, I have to say. All three of our principal parties and I gained a personal experience in this in briefings with both NATO association and Foreign Affairs committee are very solidly pro-Ukraine.

Popova: Why do you think Canada is not a battlefield for Russian influence operation?

Waschuk: Because one of the main weapons that Russia has in number of countries is ignorance. The fact that people don’t know about Ukraine. People in Canada know about Ukrainians, therefore, they suspected someone others than those of Ukraine. They consider the existence of Ukrainians and Ukraine to be normal. And that makes a Russian propaganda’s job way harder.

Popova: Okay, but still the Canadian government allowed Russian oligarchs to buy property in Canada through LLC’s or through offshore companies. There was a situation with investments in Trump Tower in Toronto. What do you do with that?

Waschuk: Again, Canada is an open society with a multi-cultural immigration policy. So we have people coming from all over and doing all sorts of things including investing. So, unless there is a proof of criminality there is no a whole lot.

Popova: So are you sure all this money is clean?

Waschuk: No-no, we have instruments like FinTrack, which is our financial tracking services that are taking closer look at some of these. They turn a development you mentioned the face one of them won’t broke, so it’s not gonna be a rebranding. Different sort of hotels, different honors.

Popova: Non-investments from Russian government bank VTB?

Waschuk: No, that is long on. So, I think we certainly pay more attention to cyber-threats, we pay more attention to disinformation, both in the G-7 contacts, where Canada leads in a rapid response mechanism, but also in terms of using our own agencies within the government of Canada to look at how we protect our own democratic system from infiltration. And the fact that we have elections coming up ourselves in October 2019 means that we are also learning from what’s happening in Ukraine and from the way Ukrainians have mobilized to defend themselves.

Popova: Do you have a recipe? Because you mentioned that especially it was crucial before elections, and we saw how Russia had influenced the US or had tried to influence US elections. Then France, then Germany, now again big protests in France, then Catalonia, then Brexit… So, it’s quite a lot of different types of active measures or information measures. And Ukraine is coming to the elections. What is your recommendation about it?

Waschuk: We are not just recommending, we are planning to be useful. So, we have a couple of projects lined up to help build Ukraine cyber-defenses, to also work with the central election commission to ensure that interference becomes very-very difficult. We will be sending voting analysts with significant elections observing missions – up 500 people total in 2019 with more time now for the long time observance, because the problems aren’t just on the election day, but also before and sometimes after. So we have a large package, I think it’s about equivalent of 24 million US dollars, in support both for the electoral process and to fight disinformation and cyber-threats.

Popova: I think cyber leaks that they will use – they are already done. In my opinion, it’s how it’ll happen.

Waschuk: Well, we’ll help to find them.

Popova: Yes, at least not to repeat them in the next elections… Internet. I think our first discussion with you many years ago was about bullying in social networks, you personally were in this situation several times, and it happens more often, when you expose your opinion that somebody does not like. What is your recommendation?

Waschuk: You’ve got to have a very tough skin and you can’t respond in a same way as the bullyists try to provoke you. You’ve got to be reasoned. You’ve got to be pretty matter fact. And you’ve got to be quick. Don’t let miss your presentations just go viral around what you say. I mean people of my family and at work laugh at me because I’m constantly checking up the feed. It’s not just that I want to avoid work or do not talk to people. It’s also the fact that I want to be able to react or cut something bad off before it starts to spread.

Popova: How many minutes should it be?

Waschuk: You know, I think there is no hard and fast rule, but an example. I was at an event where one of the candidates for President was speaking. And someone took a picture of me and said: “Oh, look, here is an Ambassador who sings to a candidate. Is that a right thing for an ambassador to do? Is that proper?” Okay, I don’t need the whole intervention, incitement thing going on here, so I just respond to that person: “Observing, reporting, analyzing. That’s my job, kind like your job too, Mr. Journalist. And he said: “Well, yeah. Okay.”

Popova: Oh, so it was a real person – a journalist.

Waschuk: Yes, it was a real person. But I thought, you know, before the whole thing that people are discussing and people are spinning it, I want my side of a story out there right away.

Popova: I think in a crisis situation it should like maximum 2 hours.

Waschuk: I think it’s going to be about 10 minutes.

Popova: The U.S. is doing a lot for Ukraine, and Canada Is doing not less, as far as I understand, especially in the defense sphere – you are the #1 or #2. Everybody knows about the U.S. involvement, thanks to Russian propaganda a lot by the way, but nobody knows about such big Canada’s involvement. Why? Are you hiding it?

Waschuk: No-no, we are just naturally modest. But I think those who follow this issue and who are interested know, they also follow some social media accounts. Operation UNIFIER has its own account, the Canadian Armed Forces in Ukraine – whether it’s Facebook, it’s trilingual – English, French and Ukrainian, so you can follow them. But also I think it’s not a matter of trumpeting things we are certainly don’t want to make ourselves an object of somebody else’s propaganda. It’s getting the job done. We have a highly professional group of military people here and they’re doing things like helping the general centers for children with central paralysis. They have gone out and talk to kids in schools about Canada. So, we’ve got that sort of that reach. The more important thing is getting the job done, and when you are not a super power, you just haven’t got a super power profile.

Popova: About economic reform. I know that you support not only defense reforms, but also economic reform. What types of reforms does Canada support, and what have been the results of it?

Waschuk: I think we’ve had an Advisor program called EDGE that is kind of coming quickly to the Ministries to help them to make some key changes: eHealth which is the basis for the entire registration system for patients in Ukraine – that is something that we have launched. Similarly Export Promotion Office Ukraine Invest, which has brought 700 million dollars investment into Ukraine. And again, Export Promotion Office, Ukraine’s export has been growing by 15%-20% a year for the last 2 or 3 years. So we definitely see results there. E-services for the Ministry of Justice, the probation system for both youth and for adults, people not being locked up in jail, but instead been helped to reintegrate back into society. That’s helping actual people. Economic developing project in places from Melitopol to Kolomyia, and again, we’ve seen some mayors who have been very effective now with a decentralization, they got the resources on the projects and helped give them the strategy what to do with the budget they’ve now got. Before the problem was everybody had ideas, but nobody has money, now the money is there, but some people say: “We have no ideas”. So, our projects are there to help people not to give them ideas necessarily, but to frame and formulate their ideas.

Popova: The Free Trade Agreement between Ukraine and Canada. What have been the results of this agreement?

Waschuk: The results are trade is growing. It firstly broadens because people say: “Oh, there is a new market. Let’s try and see if they want my furniture or my candies or my shoes”

Popova: In numbers, please.

Waschuk: In numbers? I think last year was about 300 million for Canada and about 117 million for Ukraine. Obviously Ukraine needs a little help in getting its numbers up, so we have a special project for that Canada-Ukraine trade investment support project – a 5-year project, it’s now a third year. So, we actually bring delegations of Ukrainian small and medium manufactures and producers to Canada to help them find markets for their goods, generally higher valuated to make sure that more of the benefits accrue and stay here in Ukraine.

Popova: I heard that with IT Ukraine also get almost 100 million…

Waschuk: Yes, well, in term of service it’s very hard to track, because especially of the free license I don’t exactly tell how much they are selling. But yes, there is lots. I know just one big company builds more than 50 million dollars a year for Canadian customers. So, there is a lot. It is again, highways jobs for Ukrainians, and do it. And it’s basically brains being turned into export revenues.

Popova: What do Canadian investors, which want to work with Ukraine, feel about the situation in the country? And what are the main problems or wins for them?

Waschuk: People see the opportunities here. Ukraine does not have a fantastic reputation as an investment destination, but what we increasingly see is that companies from Canada, that have international experiences, know how to measure risk and know how to find the right consultants, the right lawyers to make sure they sell themselves up right, they sell themselves up for success here. One of the things they have been doing is not selling up green field, but looking at transparent well-run proving Ukrainian companies, that you can either buy some of or buy all of. Because they have a proving track record with a management that knows what it’s doing in Ukrainian commissions, you are not sending them from a different planet and telling them to become successful in Ukraine, you actually give a capital to Ukrainians, who know what they are doing. So, I’d say “Fairfax Financial” from Canada with its investments in a start-up which is an agricultural company, “Colonnade Insurance”, now “AXA Insurance”, which is the biggest insurer in Ukraine. These are people who have spent years developing strategy for how work the Ukrainian market. “Brookfield” which is Canada’s and on some days the world’s biggest real estate company with the IT-park in Lviv, gain a big project, about 170 million US, as an innovation platform that will create about 14000 jobs.

Popova: Do Canadian companies have problems with retaining qualified personnel in Ukraine?

Waschuk: From what I understand, it’s not a big problem yet, but I can see it coming. And I think Ukraine needs to get ready for the fact that it’s already a part of a globalized labor market, certainly when it comes to Central and Eastern Europe. And you also need to start thinking about how do you prepare to welcome some incoming labor to replace some of the Ukrainians who’s gone somewhere else.

Popova: Recently, cannabis was legalized for recreational use in Canada, and I heard about billions of dollars, which Canadian government gets thanks to giving licenses and getting them from the black market. What have been the first results?

Waschuk: It seems to be working for any smuggling. We already had for about 15 years legalized medical marihuana, So we already have the practice of licensing and regulating producers of medical marihuana, now we move to recreational phase. It’s to bring both the consumers out of the shadows and out of criminalization, but also then the producers and the marketers. So we have in some provinces, even the government which is marketing marihuana in controlling it. In some provinces it’s a private sector, in some provinces it’s a combination of the both. So we have different models in the federation to have people who are doing it. Yes, we do see it as a multi-billion sector, and a number of Canadian companies are now also thinking of going global. There is also thinking of the investing in non-narcotic cannabis production in Ukraine. So, yes, we see it as an opportunity for controlled legal safe production and use of both medicinal, recreational and non-narcotic cannabis.

Popova: One more guest will join our interview now. This is Taras Ratushnyy – the Head of Medical cannabis association of Ukraine. Tell me, what you know about this transition in Canada. And what economic effect could a similar change bring about in Ukraine?

Ratushnyy: First of all, you need to actually have a research subject in order to measure its economic effect. The subject you are currently discussing in Canada, the event which took place on October 17, concerns the economic model of recreational cannabis for adults. Basically, the state establishes control over the legal turnover. In Canada, there is a government agency Health Canada, which owns monitoring tools to which Canadians of legal age in trust highly sensitive personal information. And so, specifically last year Health Canada was able to determine, that Canadians spent 5.7 billion on cannabis primarily for non-medical use. And these are in fact government statistics. There are no such figures calculated in Ukraine, because the state does not have any objective data. It’s also a very important point that in Canada medical cannabis that is control limited economic turnover proceeding from sales for medical use, began in 2001 if I’m not mistaken. It is medical cannabis that could be substantively calculated approximately for Ukraine. If we look at or use an analogy on demographic principle, because Canada is proportional in population to Ukraine or the physiological principle, because Canadians suffer generally from the same diseases as Ukrainians, we know that in Canada there are now 330 thousand registered patients in medical cannabis programs. And these are of course not all medical cannabis patients, but only those who are officially registered. And if Health Canada predicts it overall, such patients could number from 1.8 million to 2.5 million according to various estimates. In principle, we could apply this data term situation and say that this is approximately, what the result be here and our estimate resource is about 2 million. That is a ceiling of this market’s potential.

Popova: Do I understand correctly that the state earned from selling permission to selling growth. Also legalization. As far as I understand, only a partial market is legalizes, and of course unfortunately maybe 70% of the above amount is legalized. So, we are talking about some pretty big numbers, up to 10 billion if we add medical. Even if it only about, okay, let’s say 6 billion. Taras, can you comment on these numbers? Because these figures really struck me.

Ratushnyy: In Canada as of last year, there were 89 if memory serves me license manufacturers. That is companies that had paid for licenses for the right to participate in this legal turnover for medical purposes. Since that was the only legal use at that time. And ultimately since there were adequate capable tool for accessing the monitoring data, it was found that these 89 companies provide only 10% of the total market volume. The remaining 90% proceeding from grey or even black sources.

Popova: Last year there was no legalization yet?

Ratushnyy: There was medical.

Popova: Yes, there was medical legalization, not recreational. Thank you very much Taras for joining us.

Mr. Washchuk, in your last year in Ukraine, what would be your wishes for the Ukrainians in the year of two elections. What do you wish them?

Waschuk: Keep your sense of humor and try and build trust. Maybe you can’t start right away at the electoral level, but with your family and your community, in your non-governmental organizations, build trust and build hope for the future. That’s what I wish people.

Popova: Thank you for your coming to our program. Thanks to all who watched us. See you next week.

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