Russia’s announcement of a partial mobilization of reservists is an “admission of failure” regarding its war in Ukraine, Foreign Affairs Minister Mélanie Joly said Wednesday.
“It’s because Russian soldiers are deserting the field,” Joly told National Post in a phone interview from New York, where she is attending the United Nations General Assembly.
She said Russian president Vladimir Putin “underestimated the support Ukraine would get from its allies, and he really underestimated the strength of Ukrainian people in fighting against the enemy.”
Russia’s war in Ukraine is now in its seventh month. Following a counteroffensive by Ukraine, Putin ordered a partial mobilization on Wednesday. The move prompted some Russians to rush to buy plane tickets out of the country, and others to protest in the street, the Associated Press reported.
Putin also threatened to use Russia’s arsenal of nuclear weapons, warning that he was not bluffing.
Asked about those comments, Joly said she would “echo the words of the (UN) Secretary General. It’s not only irresponsible, it’s unthinkable. And so Putin is playing with fire.”
Joly is set to give a speech at the General Assembly on Monday. She said the focus of that speech will be Ukraine, but it would also touch on disinformation, something the foreign affairs minister has been talking about since Russia invaded Ukraine in February.
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Canada is currently chairing the Freedom Online Coalition of countries, and Joly hosted an event at the General Assembly on Tuesday, alongside the Netherlands, focusing on “upholding democracy” amid a rise of disinformation.
She said Russian disinformation is getting “much more sophisticated over time.” Joly gave the example of how Russia targets its messaging on vaccination, telling Russians at home to get vaccinated, but saying in English to the outside world that vaccines aren’t effective, in order to create uncertainty. “In Spanish, Russia will say that vaccines are inefficient, except in Cuba, where they will say that vaccines are important, effective and people should be vaccinated,” she said.
Joly said addressing disinformation will include “calling out bad actors” like Russia, and using her platform as Canada’s foreign affairs minister “to rebut any lies used by authoritarian regimes and bad actors.”
She said Canada and the Netherlands are working with other countries on a “rules of the road” document for social media platforms. The goal is then for that document to become the basis of an international declaration.
“We want to do so, well, obviously protecting freedom of expression because it’s at the core of our democracy. But this is a generational issue that we need to address, because democracy in the digital age cannot thrive if we don’t agree on the fact that we have to tackle this issue.”
Joly said Canada is also putting in work on combatting disinformation through the G7 Rapid Response Mechanism (RRM), a co-ordinated multilateral initiative that the federal government describes as “identifying, preventing and responding to threats to G7 democracies.”
Canada leads that initiative, which was established in 2018, and the Liberal government allocated $13.4 million over five years in this year’s federal budget for the RRM.
Last month, Prime Minister Justin Trudeau announced the creation of a “dedicated team” to fight disinformation. The team is an Eastern Europe-focused unit at RRM Canada focusing on Russian disinformation.
Joly said the Rapid Response Mechanism “has been used a lot by the G7 partners, really to monitor anything that is going online, and really understanding what are the sources of disinformation and what are the false narratives used.”
Canada now has “an expertise on this. And we’ve just allocated new resources too, because we know that this is something that we will need to support even more in the weeks and months and years to come.”