John Baird vows to support human rights during visit to Kyiv

Foreign affairs minister predicts difficult future for the country

Foreign Affairs Minister John Baird lays flowers at a make-shift memorial for those killed in recent violence in Kiev February 28, 2014.

Foreign Affairs Minister John Baird lays flowers at a make-shift memorial for those killed in recent violence in Kiev February 28, 2014. (Valentyn Ogirenko/Reuters)

Canadian Foreign Affairs Minister John Baird, along with a small entourage of Conservative MPs and Ukrainian Canadians, began a tour of the country’s scarred capital Kyiv this morning, paying respects to the dozens who died in demonstrations last week against recently ousted president Viktor Yanukovych, and meeting with Ukraine’s new political leadership.

The visit underlines Canada’s absolute support for the new authorities in Ukraine, and for the revolution that brought them to power—even as Yanukovych, now in Russia, claims he remains Ukraine legitimate president, and as Russia denounces and threatens the new government by deploying troops outside their permitted base in Crimea and drilling thousands more near Russia’s border with Ukraine.

“Canada is not a referee in the world,” Baird said, when asked if his strong backing of Ukraine’s revolutionary government might hinder Canada’s ability to mediate between Moscow and Kyiv. “We are standing up for freedom, human rights, and the rule of law.”

Baird’s visit began with a walk through Kyiv’s Independence Square and surrounding streets, which are still crisscrossed with barricades and heaps of rubble. Wearing a scarf with the blue and yellow colours of Ukraine, he placed flowers where sniper fire killed several, including a 17-year-old boy, and examined trees and lampposts still pockmarked with bullets.

He spoke with men guarding a barricade, and told them their courage was inspiring. One, worried about possible Russian designs on Ukrainian territory in the east and in Crimea, mentioned the 1994 Budapest Security Memorandum in which America, Britain and Russia pledged to respect Ukraine’s existing borders and to refrain from using or threatening force against its territorial integrity and political independence. Baird said Canada would “fight for that.”

A woman, tearful, wandered nearby among the flowers and debris. “Yanukovych … Yanukovych,” she said, gesturing around her. She was quite upset. One can only assume she would have broken down completely, had been she been subjected to the callous humour of Liberal leader Justin Trudeau or the distressing moral ambiguity of the NDP. Fortunately, she was saved from such trauma by the Canadian government, which kept non-Conservative parliamentarians out of the delegation.

Leaving Independence Square, Baird stopped at another barricades and picked up a large hunk of broken brick. One of his guides said protester had hurled such missiles at the special police assaulting them. Baird weighed the brick in his hand, tossing it up and down a few times, and looking thoughtful. He kept it with him.

From there it was on to the headquarters of Yulia Tymoshenko’s Batkivshchyna Party. Tymoshenko, one of the leaders of the Orange Revolution a decade ago, and a former prime minister, has just been released from prison where she was jailed on charges many believe were politically motivated. There was a small European Union flag at the entrance to the party’s headquarters and numerous very large photographs of Tymoshenko inside, smiling broadly and beautifully in every one. There she was with her arm around a small child, meeting supporters decked out in traditional costumes, being shown how to mould clay on a pottery wheel by a handsome man in straw hat. The latter looked how a still from the movie Ghost might have had it been made for children.

More from Michael Petrou in Ukraine:

In person, Tymoshenko is frailer. She has a severe back injury. When she spoke to the crowd in Independence Square immediately after her release, she was confined to a wheelchair. Today she managed to stand with help, hopping slightly to keep her balance.

“I would like, through you, to thank all Canadians. You have been among our strongest supporters,” she told Baird.

Baird again praised Ukrainian courage. Tymoshenko nodded. “What’s been done will change the history of Ukraine, and not just Ukraine,” she said.

Then it was to St. Michael’s Monastery, where the wounded and dead were brought. Out front, a work crew was unloading an enormous gold samovar that would be heated by a roaring fire and is big enough to provide tea for hundreds. Apparently the manufacturer had given it to Kyiv as a gift.

“Very nice,” Baird said. It was.

The wounded came here because they were afraid, with reason, of what would happen to them if they went to official hospitals where state security services could find them. Speaking privately, Baird described the targeting of wounded in hospitals and threats against those who treated them as “despicable” and said Syrian dictator Bashar al-Assad’s forces did the same.

Baird met with a priest and thanked him for welcoming the delegation. The priest replied that he didn’t have much choice. “How could we not? The church is always open to all people.”

The priest said they did what they had to do during the fighting: comforting the afflicted, and praying for both sides to turn away from violence and provocation. There are still medical protesters’ tents and a medical clinic on the monastery grounds.

Baird said it was “by the grace of God” that more people didn’t die. He then announced $200,000 in medical aid for Ukrainians. The money will be funneled through the International Committee of the Red Cross, and the International Renaissance Foundation, a Ukrainian NGO founded by George Soros that focuses more on building civil society than emergency medical relief.

Canada is committed to standing with Ukraine, Baird said before leaving the monastery and walking past the giant samovar that was now being blessed by priests. Its future, he said, will be difficult.




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John Baird vows to support human rights during visit to Kyiv

  1. New form of democracy!
    Why wait for elections when you can effect change through violence!
    I suppose when a few thousand representatives of this new democratic system arrive in Ottawa the Harper government will quietly step aside acknowledging the will of the people. LOL

  2. I remember when Canada used to be a world referee, we were a much better place.

    • Our government actually cared about others then, and not their leaders or resources. Once you take the care out our gov is just like the US.

  3. Pfffffhahahahahahah this article is the biggest load of pandering bullshit I’ve ever heard. “Distressing moral ambiguity?” “Callous humor?” Way to portray Baird as some beacon for humanity, a truly noble, intelligent statesman, instead of what he is, a bumbling idiot who stumbles around half-witting his way through situations, while wandering around with a Svoboda scarf around his neck(not the one at the top of this article.)

      • too busy playing his instrument.

        • LOL!

      • One can only assume she would have broken down completely, had been she been subjected to the callous humour of Liberal leader Justin Trudeau or the distressing moral ambiguity of the NDP. Fortunately, she was saved from such trauma by the Canadian government, which kept non-Conservative parliamentarians out of the delegation.

        Until I read that passage, I thought this was just another obligatory fluff piece about our FM gathering photo ops. That was a deft touch. ;-)

  4. Taking jabs at Justin
    Trudeau is cowardly Macleans. Case in point, Putin has given all Russian
    Olympic medalists a band new mercedes benz car. If they are not even old enough
    to drive they are also getting an all paid full time chauffeur. Where does a society
    like Russia
    get off with such egotism when most citizens are living in poverty? Big John
    Baird is an embarrassment to Canada being over in the Ukraine as are
    representative promoting democracyL Case in point again, if the Ukraine interim
    government knew the actual truth about Harper’s vision of trying to make Canada
    into a autocratic state were he is ruler for life they would be telling Baird
    & his delegation to head straight back to Harperland

  5. I find the statement that Canada is standing up for the “rule of law” by supporting a revolution odd; whether it’s supporting the outcome of a revolution or supporting one of the parties. Aren’t revolutions all about changing the governing authorities, which make the laws? (unless it’s referring to planets:) I’m not arguing against supporting a revolution, although in this case I haven’t formed an opinion yet.
    If our government wants to come out and say that they support regime change in Ukraine, then fine, and that would be a good debate to have. But to couch it as supporting the rule of law is dishonest and and effectively shuts down any reasonable debate.

  6. is the minister going to face down the Russian tanks?

    • Baird’s got their backs. He’ll lead from the rear.

      • HAHAHAHA call ‘em like you see ‘em. Baird is an embarassment and should not be allowed to travel. Why is it that he is supporting the overthrow of a legally elected government on our dime? Oh right… photo ops.

        • Thank you. Good to see some sense out there still.

  7. Back in 2008 Sarah Palin warned that Russia could march into the Ukraine. A statement for which she was mocked at the time.

    • Once again proof that even a broken clock is right twice a day.

  8. Democracy, what a joke. It’s only democracy as it suits us. Then it doesn’t matter who has the Kalashnikov. Baird is a sack of **** using deaths like that for a media appearance, makes me ashamed to say i’m a Canadian. Not the biggest fan of Russia but kudos to them for standing up to the ethnic Russians that have been there for generations. That’s what the promoters of the coup who dismembered democracy get for trying to make them second class citizens, could see where that was going…

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