Foreign Affairs Minister Mélanie Joly said she does not support following European countries in barring Russians from getting visas, arguing dissidents are facing increasing danger.
She also said Russia needs to be prosecuted for illegally invading Ukraine, a view Moscow rejected while adding dozens more Canadians to its blacklist Thursday.
Russian President Vladimir Putin has been pushing to recruit more troops for his war in Ukraine after that country took back wide swaths of territory.
“Clearly what we’re doing is working, but we need to do more,” Joly told reporters in a Thursday call from New York.
She argued the regime is getting desperate, posing a risk to dissidents.
That’s why Joly ruled out demands from Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskyy for western countries to stop issuing visas to Russians.
“There are Russian soldiers who essentially are ready to challenge the authorities, and who are deserting their ranks, and they’re fleeing the battlefield in Ukraine,” Joly said in French.
“There are many Russians who want to leave Russia,” Joly said, arguing visa bans are unfair to people who disagree with Moscow.
Russia’s embassy said it agreed with Canada on that point.
“Here we can agree with Minister Joly, that a visa ban is a collective-punishment policy,” said Artem Kalabukhov, political counsellor for Russia’s embassy in Ottawa.
This week, four occupied regions in Ukraine have announced plebiscites on whether to join Russia. Joly decried these as “sham referendums,” which Russia could use as a premise to claim that Ukraine was the aggressor.
She also said Canada is working with allies to see whether existing international tribunals, or even a new one, could prosecute Russia for illegally invading Ukraine.
In an interview, Kalabukhov rejected those characterizations.
He echoed the Kremlin’s talking points that Ukraine’s 2014 uprising resulted in violence that was never prosecuted, and dismissed international probes of reported mass graves in Izium and Bucha as “a staged provocation.”
Kalabukhov also noted Zelenskyy’s statement a year ago that people in the occupied Donbas region who identify as Russians ought to move to that country.
However, Russia justified its 2014 annexation of Crimea through a referendum that numerous human-rights groups deemed to be coerced.
On Thursday, Russia’s foreign ministry announced it had added 87 Canadian citizens to what it has called a “blacklist” that bars entry into Russia.
The fresh names include military officials, lieutenant-governors, premiers like Quebec’s François Legault and members of the non-partisan Parliamentary Centre, which advocates for democracy abroad.
Also sanctioned were Bombardier CEO Eric Martel and the heads of various technology companies who have donated to Ukraine or discussed providing equipment to its army.
Kalabukhov said that’s in direct response to Canada’s existing sanctions, which Joly promised Thursday to soon ramp up.
“Russia works tit-for-tat with its moves against unfriendly countries, and this policy continues,” Kalabukhov said.
“All these sanctions against Russia are of a symbolic nature and unable to affect the Russian economy, and the Canadian government knows this very well,” he claimed.
Joly said she will make a national address on Monday with a heavy focus on Canada’s support for Ukraine.
The Ukrainian Canadian Congress has been calling for a visa ban, arguing Russia’s actions amount to a genocide that should preclude its citizens from the privilege of travelling abroad.
Congress head Ihor Michalchyshyn also called on Canada to send more weapons to Ukraine, which Joly said she is considering.
“The quicker the Russian armies are defeated, the quicker peace will return to Europe,” Michalchyshyn wrote.