Dion meets with Rus­sian coun­ter­part

The Hamilton Spectator - - CANADA & WORLD - LEE BERTHIAUME

OT­TAWA — For­eign Af­fairs Min­is­ter Stéphane Dion sat down Monday with his Rus­sian coun­ter­part Sergey Lavrov — the first meet­ing of its kind in years.

The dis­cus­sion took place in the tiny coun­try of Laos on the mar­gins of an an­nual meet­ing of southeast Asian na­tions. It rep­re­sented the most tan­gi­ble move yet by the Lib­eral govern­ment to thaw re­la­tions with Moscow.

Con­tacts be­tween the two coun­tries had been largely lim­ited to dis­cus­sions be­tween bu­reau­crats since Russia seized Crimea from Ukraine in March 2014. The pre­vi­ous Con­ser­va­tive govern­ment took a harder line than even the U.S., stead­fastly re­fus­ing to meet with any­one from the Krem­lin un­til Russia left Crimea.

Dion’s spokesper­son Joseph Pick­er­ill said the Dion raised “frank” con­cerns about Russia’s in­volve­ment in Ukraine and Syria, as well as its cur­rent stand­off with NATO in eastern Europe.

But the min­is­ters also talked about the po­ten­tial for co-oper­a­tion in the Arc­tic, space and coun­tert­er­ror­ism — is­sues on which the Rus­sians have been keen to fo­cus as they have at­tempted to change the chan­nel away from Ukraine.

The Lib­er­als promised dur­ing last year’s elec­tion cam­paign to re-en­gage with Russia af­ter the pre­vi­ous Con­ser­va­tive govern­ment had cut nearly all ties. How­ever, Prime Min­is­ter Justin Trudeau has been fac­ing calls to keep up the pres­sure.

The Lib­eral govern­ment agreed ear­lier this month to or­ga­nize a 1,000-strong NATO bat­tle group in Latvia whose mis­sion is to dis­suade neigh­bour­ing Russia from flex­ing its mus­cles in the Baltic state.

The U.S., United King­dom and Ger­many are or­ga­niz­ing sim­i­lar forces in Poland, Es­to­nia and Lithua­nia.

Ear­lier this month, Dion called it “ter­ri­bly un­for­tu­nate” that Canada had to send mil­i­tary forces to Latvia.

But he also said it was only a mat­ter of time be­fore he sat down at the ta­ble with Lavrov.

Sources say a meet­ing be­tween Dion and Lavrov had been in the works for some time, and that this week’s As­so­ci­a­tion of Southeast Asian Na­tions meet­ing in Laos was cho­sen be­cause it rep­re­sented a neu­tral site for both par­ties.

Stephane Dion

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