TORONTO – Canada is not a security threat to Russia, and recent revelations that a Canadian naval officer acted as a spy for Moscow will not damage the relationship between the two countries, Russia’s ambassador to Canada said Friday.
“With all due respect to Canada, it is not, believe me, the heart of our security concerns,” said Georgiy Mamedov following a lunchtime speech at the Speakers Forum in Toronto.
Mamedov called the recent spy scandal “very marginal” in the scope of Russia’s security priorities, and blamed the incident on the lingering effects of the past.
“So let the routine of the Cold War die away. It will take some time,” he said.
Mamedov, who has been stationed in Ottawa since 2003, said the real threat to both countries was terrorism, not Canada’s military secrets.
On Wednesday, navy Sub-Lt. Jeffrey Paul Delisle pleaded guilty to espionage-related charges and breach of trust for selling classified information to Russia from 2007 to 2012.
Delisle, 41, is the first person to be charged under the Security of Information Act, which was passed following the 9-11 terrorist attacks on the United States.
Delisle joined the Navy in 1996, and at the time of his arrest earlier this year, he had been employed as a threat assessment analyst at Trinity, a highly-secretive military facility in Halifax.
His position there gave him access to intelligence shared by the Five Eyes group — which includes Canada, Great Britain, the United States, New Zealand and Australia.
The Crown alleges that Delisle voluntarily approached the Russian embassy in Ottawa and offered his services.
He was then asked by officials to search his work computer for any reference to Russia, copy the information onto a USB stick and then email it to a foreign handler, the Crown said.
The Russians allegedly paid him $5,000 for the first couple of transfers and then $3,000 every month.
Mamedov said he didn’t want to speak about the Delisle case because it was ongoing.
“I already told you it did not hurt our bilateral relations from our standpoint. If you want to ask your leaders, do that, I can only answer from behalf of my government,” he said, appearing defensive when he was repeatedly asked by reporters to comment on the case.
“Whenever we’re having problems in our bilateral relations…we will overcome them. Nothing dramatic about that,” he said.
During the Cold War, Mamedov was stationed in Washington.
At the time, he said, he was privy to classified documents and “never came across a document with sources in Canada.”
Much of Mamedov’s Friday speech, which was titled “Canada-Russia Partnership,” focused on continuing the two countries’ economic co-operation and furthering their claims on the Arctic.
He complimented Canada’s “fiscally cautious” economic approach and the “high moral qualities” Canadian businesses employ.
Mamedov said there was no reason for Russia to stop purchasing Canadian dollars to plump up their foreign reserves.
“It took…some time to convince central bankers in Moscow that Canada can be a safe haven,” he said. “I don’t see any information that would cause me to suggest something other than buying more Canadian dollars.”
He added that both countries also share many other similarities, including a mutual love for hockey.