Once upon a time, Canadians feverishly fretted over Soviet sleeper spies from the KGB hiding among their neighbours. Citizens constantly worried about the real potential for catastrophic nuclear war between the world’s two superpowers. Espionage ran rampant, even in peaceful countries like Canada. This was a reality until the demise of the USSR in 1991, and Canadians were freed from the fear of the Cold War.
However, Russian alliances have been questioned with the recent case of sensitive Canadian Forces information being leaked by navy Sub-Lieutenant Jeffrey Delisle to Russian authorities in exchange for cash. Despite a few recent disagreements on foreign policy and heavy-handed applications of the law, Canadians need not be worried about a Cold War reprisal. Rather, Canadians need to view Russia as a rebellious brother, but nevertheless an important political, social and economic partner that is not to be antagonized.
Admittedly, Canada and Russia have opposing views on foreign affairs lately, including stances on the Arab Spring, North Korea and the South Ossetia war in Georgia. Despite these differences, however, the two nations co-operate diplomatically and have no reason to end this co-operation. Both countries are active in the United Nations, the G8, the G20 and the Arctic Council. Aside from these multilateral groups, Canadians and Russians are bilaterally involved in finding solutions to energy and environmental problems, working together to find sustainable development for the Arctic through the communication of scientific information. Additionally, the nations have recently decided to communicate scientific information through joint research projects on subjects as vast as nanotechnology, life sciences and aviation. Clearly, the level of political co-operation between the countries is far too close and too strong to be considered hostile.
Obviously, Canadian and Russian cultures have distinct differences, but the fall of the Iron Wall has given way to some common tastes. One may be surprised that a collection of works by Canadian Tom Thomson, a Group of Seven painter, was the featured exhibition at the famed Hermitage in Saint Petersburg eight years ago. Canadian icons such as Diana Krall, Leonard Cohen and even Cirque du Soleil have all had successful performances in Russia, gaining many admirers.
Surprisingly, Canadian authors Margaret Atwood, Mordecai Richler and Marshall McLuhan have had their books translated, published and sold in Russia — a feat for a country that was under severe censorship just 21 years ago. This pales in comparison to the fact that over 500,000 Canadians identify themselves as ethnic Russians, according to the 2006 Canadian Census. Though our social bonds seemingly have little to do with foreign affairs, Canadians and Russians have budding cultural ties that are friendly and certainly not polarizing.
Most importantly, Canada and Russia share crucial economic bonds that are growing quickly and can’t be ignored. Russia’s booming resource economy triggered the creation of the Canada-Russia Intergovernmental Economic Commission. The IEC has met regularly since 1993 and has since opened a veritable flood of economic opportunities, with exports from Canada increasing from a mere $179 million in 1999 to $1.5 billion in 2011. Russia exports $1.3 billion in goods to Canada, mostly raw materials to power the industrial sector.
Aerospace has been a particular area of focus for the IEC, where engineers from both nations have signed scientific co-operation agreements to increase trade of parts and knowledge. The Canadian International Development Agency has a dedicated Russian Program, active since 1991, assisting Russia in the transformation to a stable, democratic market economy. Economically speaking, it is clear that co-operation between Russia and Canada is necessary to both nations.
Anyone with a sibling can concede that brothers and sisters fight. Russia and Canada are no different. As long as the familial in-fighting does not get violent or dangerous, no one needs to concern themselves with petty espionage events. Russia is too strong of a partner to become an enemy to Canada — the political ties, surprising social similarities and economic importance shared between the resource-rich nations are all too close to suddenly destroy intricate bilateral relations. Though some of Russia’s actions are questionable and unjustified, these issues will be discussed and dealt with promptly. The differences will soon be forgotten in the international family. Then, the two nations can share some Russian vodka and Canadian beer and continue to strengthen their friendship, for it is undoubtedly in their mutual interests.