Foreign Affairs Minister John Baird said all the right things about Ukrainian President Viktor Yanukovych Tuesday -- but one.
Baird said "the backward slide to Soviet-style repression and intimidation is not acceptable." Baird said "the Ukrainian government must accede to the fundamental demands of its people particularly with respect to accountability and the principles of democracy." But Baird also said "We'll see just how things evolve." He should have said "Canada demands that President Viktor Yanukovych call an election."
It is difficult to see how an unacceptable backward slide into Soviet-style repression and instructions that government accede to fundamental demands for the principles of democracy could lead to any other conclusion. But apparently it did. Mr. Baird loaded his great big gun with blanks.
Instead of demanding an election, Mr. Baird announced Canada will restrict visiting rights of Ukrainian officials "responsible for the repression and silencing of opposition voices."
Does he not know that silencing opposition voices has meant the murder of dissidents in the streets by government directed thugs under draconian emergency laws cobbled together to restrict dissent?
It is true those laws have been hastily repealed and that the prime minister and cabinet resigned, and that by western standards Mr. Yanukovych's government was elected by what passes for a fair and open election.
But it also is true that Mr. Yanukovych betrayed the electorate by spurning promised closer ties with Europe and by then embracing Russia's odious President Vladimir Putin in the face of veiled blackmail on the one hand and cash to paper over his government's failures on the other, much of which can be expected to find its way into the hands of the president's corrupt cronies and family.
Ukraine has long been divided between its Russified east and its Eurofied west. It is a split Mr. Yanukovych exploited in past elections, and it is a split that threatens to divide -- even break -- Ukraine into ever more dysfunction.
It is heartening, however, to see that the backlash to "Soviet-style repression and intimidation" has spread beyond the streets of Kyiv and into Russified parts of the country. It's an indication that, perhaps, despite years of common wisdom otherwise, that all Ukrainians could put Ukraine first.
That is an important development, so important that it demands more than strong words and weak actions.
Mr. Baird should make it clear that Canada wants to see a united Ukraine and that it stands with Ukrainians -- all of them, together.