OTTAWA — Two of Russia's nervous neighbours are urging the Trudeau Liberals to use Canada's close relationship with the U.S. to encourage the incoming Trump administration not to become too cosy with the Kremlin.
The ambassadors of Ukraine and Latvia tell The Canadian Press that Canada's historic friendship and alliance with the world's only superpower puts it in a strong position to advise president-elect Donald Trump to be wary of Russian President Vladimir Putin.
The envoys also say new Foreign Affairs Minister Chrystia Freeland can deliver that message to Washington because of her strong network of contacts in the U.S., as well as her past experience as a journalist who reported extensively from Ukraine and Russia.
Trump has frequently complimented Putin, even though American intelligence agencies say Putin engineered cyberattacks designed to affect the outcome of the 2016 presidential election.
Trump said for the first time this week that Russia might have been behind the cyberattacks.
But he has also said the U.S. needs to improve relations with Russia, saying if Putin likes him that's an "asset" for the U.S. because the country has a "horrible relationship with Russia."
"There are so many people around the world who hope that Canada will educate the new administration in Washington, D.C., and that Canada will help the new administration in the U.S. make a firm stand on Russia," Andriy Shevchenko, the Ukrainian ambassador to Canada, said in an interview.
"The world and countries like mine expect of Canada that it will show a lot of leadership in dealing with the new U.S. administration."
Karlis Eihenbaums, the Latvian ambassador, said Canada is widely viewed as a trusted ally and close friend of the U.S. which will hopefully help advance the interests of NATO in Washington. Trump has criticized NATO as obsolete and said the U.S. will not automatically come to the aid of its allies.
Canada is sending 450 troops to Latvia, a fellow NATO member, as a deterrent to Russia after it annexed Ukraine's Crimea region in 2014.
"The U.S. and Canada are constantly consulting each other and doing so in a frank and candid manner, informally and officially," said Eihenbaums
He called Prime Minister Justin Trudeau's recent decision to name Freeland as foreign affairs minister "very smart" because of her past experience in the region.
"It means that her perspectives will be unique and insightful and I presume, that the Americans will listen to what she has to say."
Shevchenko has known Freeland since the 1990s, when he was a Kyiv-based television reporter and she was a foreign correspondent splitting her time between the Ukraine capital and Moscow.
"She knows the way Russians think," Shevchenko said. "She knows the strong and the weak sides of the corrupt Russian elite and she knows how they make decisions."
Freeland's new mandate includes overseeing Canada-U.S. relations. Her appointment has been widely viewed as pre-emptive move by the Trudeau government to have a strong voice with Washington on a variety of issues, including trade.
Freeland, who will represent Canada at Trump's inauguration next Friday, has a wide network of contacts in the U.S. capital and was vigorously working its power corridors before Christmas in her former cabinet post as trade minister.
"Our government has been working hard to develop some personal connections with some of the leading voices in the new administration and the president-elect's team," Freeland told a CBC affiliate in Toronto on Friday.
"We've been focusing particularly on those shared economic interests, on that mutually beneficial trading relationship," she added.
"For all the differences between our countries and our governments, we do have a very strong shared interest in middle-class jobs and growth."
Mike Blanchfield, The Canadian Press