Prime Minister Justin Trudeau announced Thursday a new suite of “severe” sanctions against Russian entities after the country’s president, Vladimir Putin, launched a series of unprovoked attacks on neighbouring Ukraine late last night.
The economic measures — which the government says were carefully coordinated with other G7 countries — are meant to hobble Russia’s economy as its forces push further into Ukraine.
Trudeau called Russia’s act of war “a massive threat to security and peace around the world.”
To hit back, Trudeau said Canada will target 62 individuals and entities, including members of the Russian elite and their family members, the Russian paramilitary organization Wagner Group and major Russian banks.
Canada will also direct its financial firepower at members of the Russian Security Council, including the country’s defence, finance and justice ministers.
Effective immediately, Canada will stop issuing export permits for Russia-bound products and cancel existing permits.
WATCH: Trudeau announces more sanctions on Russia as the country launches invasion of Ukraine
Foreign Affairs Minister Mélanie Joly said hundreds of permits covering goods worth more than $700 million will be immediately cancelled — a blow to Russian companies that import valuable Canadian goods like aerospace parts, technology and minerals.
Trudeau announced a series of sanctions earlier this week after it became clear Putin was preparing for some sort of attack on Ukraine — a country that has sought to more closely align itself with Western countries and the European Union in recent years.
‘Greatest threat to European stability’ since Second World War
Canadians are barred from purchasing Russian sovereign debt and dealing with two state-backed Russian banks.
“These sanctions are wide-reaching. They will impose severe costs on complicit Russian elites, and they will limit President Putin’s ability to continue funding this unjustified invasion,” Trudeau said.
Trudeau said Putin’s incursion is the “greatest threat to European stability since the Second World War.” In the face of Russian aggression, the prime minister said, the Western world must strengthen its resolve to defend democratic principles that “generations of Canadians have fought to protect.”
“These are deeply disturbing times for the international community and for people everywhere who care about freedom and democracy,” Trudeau said. “Canada is unequivocal in our condemnation of Russia’s unprovoked and unjustified attack on the sovereign, democratic state of Ukraine.”
U.K. Prime Minister Boris Johnson also announced Thursday what he called “massive” sanctions against Russia, promising to cripple Russian access to foreign capital and target Putin-aligned oligarchs who have parked money in U.K. shell companies and London real estate.
U.S. President Joe Biden announced his own series of sanctions to tighten the screws on Russia’s economy.
Biden is targeting four Russian banks that hold more than $1 trillion in assets, including the country’s largest bank, Sberbank. Biden said “every asset” these banks hold in the U.S. will be frozen.
Thursday’s measures did not target the Russian president personally but Biden said sanctioning Putin is “on the table.”
Trudeau said the West’s unity on sanctions should alarm Putin and those enabling his flagrant violation of international law.
Together, the G7 countries represent nearly half of the world’s economy. Russia — once an economic powerhouse, now hobbled by kleptocracy and corruption — accounts for just 2 per cent of global wealth.
“We will respond forcefully to make sure Russia fails,” Trudeau said.
WATCH: Joly says sanctions will inflict ‘severe pain’ on Russian regime and economy
Deputy Prime Minister Chrystia Freeland said targeting oligarchs — the Russian business leaders who plundered a post-Soviet Russia of its wealth and resources — is the best way to put pressure on Putin. The Russian leader is close to these businessmen and many claim the oligarchs help Putin hide his considerable wealth offshore.
Freeland said these oligarchs — many of whom who live in major Western cities like London, Paris and New York — have “aided and abetted” Putin’s atrocities while “enjoying all the pleasures of Western democracies.”
“You’re not going to be able to keep on doing that,” Freeland said, directing her words at Russia’s oligarchs. “You’re not going to be able to be a high-roller, enjoying all the fantastic things that Western democracy has created while continuing to support Putin’s evil and barbaric policies.”
WATCH: Freeland says sanctions on Russia’s oligarchs will have a ‘real impact’
At least one foreign affairs expert said it’s not enough for the government to simply freeze Russian assets in Canada — that a better move would be to seize the funds and use them to to help the people of Ukraine.
‘Hit Putin where it hurts’
“That will really get Putin’s attention. We need to hit him below the water line,” said Fen Hampson, a professor of international affairs at Carleton University’s Norman Paterson School of International Affairs.
“We’re talking about hundreds of billions of dollars in foreign holdings — including some $250 billion of Putin’s own money — that’s sitting in bank accounts around the world. Obviously, some of those holdings are in Canada.
“Canada can play a key leadership role in saying, ‘We’re really going to hit Putin where it hurts.”
To counter what she called an “illegal” and “unconscionable” attack on Ukraine, Defence Minister Anita Anand said the government has put 3,400 military personnel from all branches of the Canadian Armed Forces on standby. These troops could be deployed to the European continent to participate in the NATO Response Force, she said.
Anand said Canada is considering an expansion of its existing military mission, Operation Reassurance, which has put CAF troops in central and eastern Europe to carry out “assurance and deterrence measures” in NATO countries that border Russia.
Canada already has sent roughly $10 million in lethal and non-lethal aid to Ukraine, equipment that will help the military there fight back against Putin’s troops. Canada also has provided financial assistance and loans in excess of $700 million to help stabilize a country now facing economic ruin.
“We cannot allow Putin to redraw maps and rewrite history to suit his own purposes,” Anand said. “We must, and we will, stand up against these efforts to sow discord, deceit and violence.”
Pretexts and ‘false flags’
As part of the diplomatic pushback, Joly summoned Russia’s ambassador to Canada, Oleg V. Stepanov, to a meeting at the Pearson Building in Ottawa on Thursday.
Joly’s spokesperson told CBC News that the minister condemned “in the strongest possible terms” Russia’s “egregious attack” on Ukraine in the closed-doors meeting.
Speaking to reporters Thursday, Joly said Russia has “lied” about its plans for Ukraine, pointing out that Moscow denied just days ago claims from U.S. sources that troops were poised to invade Ukraine.
She said Putin “fabricated” justifications for an invasion, citing his puzzling claim that the invasion is an attempt to “denazify” a country being led by President Volodymyr Zelensky — who is Jewish.
“Russia is solely responsible for this crisis. They have chose deception, intimidation and a manufactured crisis based on lies and false flag operations,” Joly said.
“The Russian regime is challenging the world order that has kept us safe since the Second World War.”
Canadians advised to ‘shelter in place’
As Ukraine readies itself for a larger war, Trudeau said Canada is concerned about the safety of Canadian citizens and permanent residents still in the country. He said the government has arranged safe passage at the land borders with Poland, Slovakia, Hungary, Romania and Moldova and is “urgently issuing travel documents” for all who need them.
But the most recent travel advice for Canadians in Ukraine warns that the government’s ability to provide consular services in Ukraine could become “severely limited” and that Canadians should not rely on government help to leave the country.
“If you are in Ukraine, you should shelter in place unless it is safe for you to leave the country,” the updated guidance said.
Those who choose to remain should “monitor trustworthy news sources to stay informed on the evolving situation” and follow instructions from local authorities, it said.
Immigration officials are also prioritizing applications for Ukrainians who want to come to Canada.
Canada’s response will be hindered by its limited diplomatic presence in Ukraine. The relocated Canadian embassy in Lviv has closed and its staff have fled Ukraine for neighbouring Poland.
Canada moved its embassy earlier this month from the capital, Kyiv, to Lviv in the western part of the country in anticipation of a Russian invasion.
Bob Rae, Canada’s ambassador to the United Nations, called the attack “a grotesque war crime.”
“Putin is the cause of all this. We cannot let him win,” Rae said on Twitter. “C’mon people, stop pretending. War has started.”
Rae went on to call Russia’s invasion “brutal thuggery” and an “unprovoked” and “evil” action from a permanent member of the Security Council of the United Nations.
In a later interview with CBC Radio’s The Current, Rae said Western countries will levy sanctions that will serve as a “direct assault on the power structure” in Russia — measures designed to make Putin and his allies pay a personal price.
Asked if sanctions alone will be enough to stop Putin, Rae said crippling sanctions forced South Africa to repeal its apartheid system and a “strong, universally applied” regime might have the same effect on Russia.
Rae said the West must present a united front in the face of Putin’s aggression. “The attack in Ukraine is an attack on democracy. Putin clearly wants to make the world safe for autocracy. That’s what this is all about.”
Anxiety in Ukrainian-Canadian community
Eugene Lupynis, a Ukrainian-Canadian living in Vancouver and a member of Metro Vancouver’s Ukrainian Community Society Of Ivan Franko, said news of the invasion has filled him with dread.
“We’ve been watching this build not just for weeks but for years,” he said. “When Russia invaded Crimea and Eastern Ukraine back in 2014, there was always a feeling something would happen, but we were praying it wouldn’t.”
Lupynis’ immediate family moved to B.C. in the 1950s but he has many relatives living in western Ukraine. He said the invasion “boggles the mind” and that everyone needs to be afraid of what Putin might do next.
“The West has always underestimated what Putin could, and would, do — he’s rewriting history in his own pen and trying to get the world to believe it,” he said.
The Alberta Provincial Council of the Ukrainian Canadian Congress issued a statement saying more than 330,000 people in Alberta claim Ukrainian ancestry. It called on Albertans to support Ukraine “militarily, politically, economically and financially.”
The premiers react
Alberta Premier Jason Kenney called the invasion “devastating” and urged the West to put an embargo on Russian oil and gas.
“Weakness invites aggression,” he said.
“The democratic world must be united in standing with Ukraine. That should begin with a hard global embargo of all Russian oil and gas exports.”
While Trudeau did not announce any direct action against Russian oil exports Thursday, the prime minister said Canada and its allies are working on “alternatives” to Russian fossil fuel sources for Europe.
“We want to make sure Putin no longer draw sustenance for his economy from selling those products around the world,” Trudeau said.
WATCH | Kyiv resident describes waking up to ‘sonic boom’ of explosions:
Manitoba Premier Heather Stefanson tweeted that her province has joined the federal government in calling on Russia to end its invasion.
“It’s hard to imagine how difficult watching the news must be for so many Manitobans who have loved ones in Ukraine,” she wrote.
Quebec Premier François Legault said his province will do its part by welcoming Ukrainian refugees in the weeks to come and offering humanitarian aid.
Putin says goal is a ‘demilitarization’ of Ukraine
Putin warned other countries Wednesday that any attempt to interfere with Russian military action would lead to “consequences they have never seen.”
He said the attack was needed to protect civilians in eastern Ukraine — a claim the U.S. had predicted he would falsely make to justify an invasion.
In a televised address, Putin accused the U.S. and its allies of ignoring Russia’s demand for security guarantees from the West and that Ukraine be prevented from joining NATO. He said Russia’s goal is not to occupy Ukraine.
As Putin spoke, big explosions were heard in Kyiv, Kharkiv and other areas of Ukraine.
A full-blown Russian invasion could cause massive casualties and topple Ukraine’s democratically elected government. And the consequences of the conflict and resulting sanctions levied on Russia could reverberate throughout the world, affecting energy supplies in Europe, jolting global financial markets and threatening the post-Cold War balance on the continent.
Putin said the Russian military operation aims to ensure a “demilitarization” of Ukraine. He urged Ukrainian servicemen to “immediately put down arms and go home.”
Putin announced the military operation after the Kremlin said separatists in Eastern Ukraine asked Russia for military assistance to help fend off Ukrainian “aggression.” The announcement immediately fuelled fears that Moscow was offering up a pretext for war, just as the West had warned.
A short time later, the Ukrainian president rejected Moscow’s claims that his country poses a threat to Russia and said a Russian invasion would cost tens of thousands of lives.
“The people of Ukraine and the government of Ukraine want peace,” President Zelensky said in an emotional overnight address, speaking in Russian in a direct appeal to Russian citizens. “But if we come under attack, if we face an attempt to take away our country, our freedom, our lives and the lives of our children, we will defend ourselves.
“When you attack us, you will see our faces, not our backs.”
Zelensky said he asked to arrange a call with Putin late Wednesday, but the Kremlin did not respond.
In an apparent reference to Putin’s move to authorize the deployment of the Russian military to “maintain peace” in eastern Ukraine, Zelensky warned that “this step could mark the start of a big war on the European continent.”
“Any provocation, any spark could trigger a blaze that will destroy everything,” he said.