Question and answer session on the situation in Ukraine at the Munich Security Conference
ANNA SAUERBREY (Foreign Policy Coordinator at Die Zeit Newspaper):
Thank you very much, Prime Minister, for taking a few questions from the audience.
And for me, my name is Anna Sauerbrey. I’m a foreign editor with the German weekly newspaper Die Zeit. I would like to start with one question that is, I think, on all of our minds right now, and that is the question of your assessment of the situation in Ukraine.
Do you think Ukraine can win this war? Will Ukraine survive as a sovereign country?
RT HON. JUSTIN TRUDEAU: Yes, I do, unquestionably. The question is, how long it’s going to take, how we manage to get there with the least amount of loss possible, how we are able to ensure that Ukrainians continue to thrive in a vibrant, independent country.
Russia’s invasion of a sovereign independent neighbour for narrow, not even narrow, very personal self interests by Vladimir Putin—it’s not in the interest of the Russian people to be invading Ukraine—and the world is strong and united against it. We are focused on not seeing escalation or expansion, because that would be bad for everyone, but we are going to continue to stand with Ukraine as long as it takes.
The sanctions that we’ve put in on Russian will be able to stay in place as long as necessary to ensure a free and independent Ukraine once again.
SAUERBREY: Canada has been on the forefront of supporting Ukraine. You’ve just announced another million-dollar package of military aid today. Still, Ukraine says it needs more: it needs a no-fly zone over Ukraine. Would you support that? Are there any circumstances that Europe and Canada can go further?
RT HON. JUSTIN TRUDEAU: First of all, a little history.
Canada supports Ukraine for two reasons. One because we have shared values, a shared desire to stand up for what is right, and it is wrong to illegally, arbitrarily violate the territorial integrity and sovereign of a democratic country that is choosing its own path forward. So, we stand because of the wrongness of what Putin is doing, but we also stand for very personal historical reasons.
After Ukraine itself, and Russia, Canada has the largest number of Ukrainian descendants in the world. In early 20th century, a massive wave of migration of Ukrainians came and settled the Canadian prairies primarily, including Chrystia’s ancestors, and built Canada in a very real and tangible way. And the pride of Ukrainian Canadians continues to this day, and the concern, and preoccupation, and heartache that Ukrainian Canadians are feeling with this violation of their homeland is palpable. So, yes, we will continue to stand up and support in every way we possibly can, but NATO has made the determination, and we agree and stand with NATO, that direct conflict between NATO planes or fighters and Russia would not bring about a better outcome for Ukrainians, nor would it bring out a better outcome especially for the rest of the world.
That the crippling sanctions we are putting forward, the condemnation of the world, and let us be clear, yes, this is a European conflict, but it has ramifications around the world. And in my conversations, and my foreign minister and finance minister’s conversations, with people around the world, African leaders, to Asian leaders, to everywhere, the principles at play here, this sort of neocolonialism that Putin is engaged in, this violent overturning of rules and principles that we all agree to abide by through the UN Charter is a threat to stability, prosperity, and peace everywhere around the world. And that’s why an unprecedented condemnation of 141 countries at the UN is a clear signal that we are all not backing down from this fight.
SAUERBREY: One last question for me, maybe you can get yourselves ready to ask your questions, but I wanted to ask about something that Europeans are very scared about, and that is Vladimir Putin’s threat to use nuclear weapons. He has put Russia’s nuclear forces on a special regime of combat duty, do you take that threat seriously? Does your government take that threat seriously?
RT HON. JUSTIN TRUDEAU: We always take all potential threats to Canada extremely seriously, and the threat of nuclear war is one that Canada has long stood against.
Back in history, we were one of the few countries many decades ago that was offered nuclear weapons in the Cold War, and we chose to say no. We steadfastly knew and decided that nuclear armaments was not the right path forward for us, and obviously not for the world either, but we continue to make sure that we’re doing everything we can to avoid that.
The concern is that Putin is in a situation where there is no easy out for him, because the path to victory is extremely unclear right now. Even if he were to be able to occupy all of Ukraine, the crippling sanctions that the world has put on Russian leaders and on the Russian economy means that over the coming years of the very difficult occupation of Ukraine, Russians will continue to suffer tremendously because of Vladimir Putin. So, we just need to continue to look for negotiated outcomes, look for a way to de-escalate, but we are going to do that in a way that recognizes the fundamental violation of international law that Putin is responsible for, and let Ukrainians decide on the path they want forward. The international community is busy leaning in, and talking, and trying to look for paths through this, but nothing about the Ukrainians without the Ukrainians is something that we have to stay true to.
SAUERBREY: Thank you, I’ve got one question here in the second row, please introduce yourselves, and make it brief because the Prime Minister and his delegation have to leave on time.
RT HON. JUSTIN TRUDEAU: Sorry, here’s a mic for you.
QUESTION: Oh, I see. My name is Christian Krinki, and I studied international law 60 years ago, well a little bit more than 60, and at that time, the leading professors and the leading thinking in the world was that international law and volk aresh gevalt prevails over recht. That means so much... well you... you know what it means, that military power is more important. And this all has changed now, it all has changed now, and my feeling is you, you not personally, but you too, are condemned to win this, and that’s the only thing which we ask you, to use all your fantasy that you can choose to win this delicate issue that we have at hand, and the question, some of our people in the community still think that something like, again, like in the 62 times that gevalt is prevailing recht, and that we do everything in this context, and you are one of the key players, so we put all trust on you, but it’s, the game is not over until it’s over. So, I wish you all luck and thank you if will do it.
RT HON. JUSTIN TRUDEAU: Thank you. I think for a lot of citizens, they said, well, Russia just invaded militarily Ukraine, surely if you want to stand for Ukrainians, the response has to be military. Well, actually, we have more and better tools than that now. The power we have, that we have built up over the past 75 years of unprecedented peace and stability around the world, means that we have the tools to damage the Putin regime far more effectively than we ever could with tanks and missiles. That they chose to overturn 75 years of rules-based order, of peace, and by ensuring that they do not benefit from the growth and the prosperity that those 75 years of peace and stability has given the world, is one of the best ways to make sure that they lose and that’s exactly what we’re doing.
So, thank you for your words.
SAUERBREY: Are there any more questions? Your chance. Yes, please.
QUESTION: Sorry. Hello, my name is Martin Klinst, I was US correspondent for Die Zeit for many years, and now I’m a fellow with the Atlantik Brücke, and I would like to know from you, there’s a dispute going on whether, you know, the International Court of Justice and the International Criminal Court of Justice should be, you know, or should be called for... take action.
And I would like to know your stand on this.
And the second question is: how many refugees is Canada going, or willing to take?
RT HON. JUSTIN TRUDEAU: Canada very much believes in, of course, the International Court of Justice and the ICC, the International Criminal Court as well. I think they are both extremely useful, one state versus state in the International Court of Justice, but also for holding Putin himself accountable for the war crimes he is committing presently in Ukraine, the ICC will be extremely important.
And in terms of refugees, Martin, thank you for asking. As you well know, Canada is a country that was built by people fleeing war, persecution, or just looking to build a better life for themselves, and it has been a tremendous strength of our country going back decades, whether it was accepting Vietnamese refugees fleeing you in 1980, whether it was more recently Syrian refugees, or Afghan refugees, or any number of waves of people who’ve come to this country—Ukrainians back in the turn of the century—contributed to building our country, and we have done extraordinarily well with that, and we will be open to accepting as many Ukrainians as want to come to Canada.
We have created a two-week process where Ukrainians anywhere in Europe can apply to not just come to Canada, but to be able to work, and study, and integrate into society far beyond a regular visitor’s visa. We know many Ukrainians will choose to go home, hopefully soon, when the crisis passes, but many hopefully will choose to also stay in Canada and continue to contribute to our country, as many are focused on contributing to the countries that are welcoming them in all around Europe. It’s not quite as easy, because you can’t get to Canada by land, so the first stop is somewhere in Europe, but we’re making sure that that second stop is able to be Canada for those who wish to.
SAUERBREY: I think we can take one last very brief question.
RT HON. JUSTIN TRUDEAU: May two more, we’ll take two more.
SAUERBREY: Two more? Alright. That’s good.
On the left side, to the aisle, lady with a scarf.
QUESTION: Hello, Sivi Nianson from the German foreign office.
I was previously posted in Ramallah, soon going to Ghana.
Anyway, thank you so much for being here today. We certainly find all ourselves in a very uncertain present, not only uncertain future, which is sometimes quite worrying.
I feel like when we look at Putin, just pretty much two weeks ago, we realized what kind of irrational actor we are dealing with. And when we look at the past, there were a lot of red flags, looking at assassinations, looking at Georgia, looking at Central African republics and Syria especially. Do you think we really missed those? Should we have acted differently, and would this, I don’t know, maybe have changed the situation somehow we are in today?
RT HON. JUSTIN TRUDEAU: I think there’s lots of reflections we have to have. I think there should be a reasonably high bar for countries to choose to take a stand against other countries making decisions. Where that bar is, obviously we’ve set it at genocide, at responsibility to protect. We could have responded stronger to Crimea; we could have done a lot of different things.
I think one of the things we have to recognize, rather reflect on anyway, is how Putin could have been so mistaken in his predictions of what would happen. How could he not think that… or how could he think that he could invade Ukraine and not have the world respond as strongly as it did? Well, over the past two, three weeks, it took an awful lot of work by a lot of extraordinary leaders here in Europe and across the Atlantic and elsewhere, to build up a package of sanctions that could be incredibly strong, unprecedented, and also united. Putin expected sanctions, he accounted for it. He didn’t expect us to be able to work so strongly together in such an unequivocal way, and I think that’s because he fundamentally misunderstands the strength of democracy.
I remember conversations, or hearing about conversations, in which he told one of my fellow leaders, you know, the fact that you have to go cap hand to the people every four years and ask them for their permission to keep governing; the fact that you allow people to stand up and ask you questions every day and challenge your authority just shows how weak you are, how incapable you are of actually doing big things, doing decisive things.
That’s Putin’s misunderstanding of how strong democracies actually are. What he saw as disagreements and division are actually robust debate and a capacity to do things with free, and strong, and determined citizens willing to stand up for the rights that have benefitted them so much, and perhaps we haven’t done a good enough job over the past years in countering the rise of authoritarian strongmen in times of uncertainty that we’re facing right now. Whether it’s COVID or climate change, or rampant populism, there is an appeal for someone, for a little bit of authoritarianism that democracy has struggled a little bit to counter. And I think this invasion is certainly, on top of all the tragedy it is, is also a wake-up call to all of us that, whether it’s misinformation or disinformation, whether it’s bringing people together in a way that provides hope and optimism and confidence in institutions, that these are things we need to do.
So, make no mistake. This was Putin’s mistake, Putin’s fault, Putin’s choice to do this, but I think we’d be missing an opportunity if we didn’t say: can we reflect on how to better project the actual strength and appeal of democracy as a system, so that we are more compelling to all those countries that are looking at the different paths forward and wondering whether democracy is actually better than authoritarianism? It is, and we’re busy proving that right now.
MODERATOR: Alright. Let’s go to the other side again.
And the last question goes to… yes, please. Second row.
QUESTION: Thank you very much.
Prime Minister, you made reference to CETA, as did Ambassador Heusgen, as well as Sigmar Gabriel. So, as a trade lawyer and partner with Baker McKenzie and a board member of Atlantik-Brücke, of course very interested to hear an update from you, or Chrystia actually.
And the second part of the question would relate to future free trade agreements.
So where do you see the future in terms of including sustainability aspects in free trade agreements? Thank you.
RT HON. JUSTIN TRUDEAU: Outstanding question.
To go to your second part, I think there has been a sense rising over the past years that trade deals have hurt people, that freer trade is not a good thing for our world, for our individual countries. And it’s based on the fact that even though freer trade always creates more growth, more prosperity, it doesn’t automatically ensure that the fruits of that growth, that that prosperity is fairly or evenly distributed to people within the countries that engage in freer trade. And therefore, the case against globalization that is being made in so many populous corners is not so much a case that free trade is bad, but that it hasn’t benefitted enough people in society.
And that’s where what we’ve done with CETA—which was one of the most progressive trade deals ever signed—is build in labour standards, environmental standards, an expectation that spells out how the benefits, make sure they go to working people, to unions, to protect the environment, that it’s not a race to the bottom to maximize the profits for a few—as sometimes international trade has done—but instead is actually opportunities for small businesses to engage in more trade, for workers to find better jobs and better careers, for people to understand that connections around the world do create more wealth that can benefit everyone.
And that’s the challenge we tried to tackle with CETA, and quite frankly, over the past six years, seven years, something like that since I’ve been office—since 2015, yeah seven years now—we actually became the only G7 country with a free trade deal with every other G7 country in the world. And we did it at a time where people were turning towards protectionism and against globalization. The way we were able to do that was by making a case for trade that benefits everyone, for growth that benefits everyone. And that certainly was at the heart of CETA.
And in terms of ratification, CETA is right now about 90 or 95% in place. Businesses in Germany, in countries across Europe and in Canada, are benefitting from CETA in massive ways, and we’re seeing the trade balance go up, but there are final formalizations that come with ratification, which would be a good thing. And my single argument always on this, is I meet regularly European progressives who say, oh we believe in free trade, we’re just not big fans of CETA. And my question for them is, if you can’t agree to a free trade deal with progressive, forward-thinking, friendly Canada, then how can you imagine that you’d be in favour of a free trade deal with anybody else?
You can’t say you’re pro-free trade, and say, oh, but not with Canada. Come on!
And that argument tends to carry the day.
Thank you very much, everyone. Thank you so much.
MODERATOR: Thank you very much Prime Minister, thank you.
And thank you all for your questions.