Foreign interference inquiry, sanctions and peacemaking, and an important Ukraine update


On 7 September 2023 the Minister of Public Safety, Democratic Institutions and Intergovernmental Affairs, Dominic LeBlanc, announced the establishment of a Public Inquiry into Foreign Interference in Federal Electoral Processes and Democratic Institutions.

As the Minister himself noted:

The announcement of this inquiry follows extensive consultations with all recognized parties in the House of Commons. All parties have agreed to the Terms of Reference and the appointment of the Commissioner.

Inquiry mandate

The inquiry will be led by a respected Quebec Court of Appeal judge, the Honourable Marie-Josée Hogue, who lacks any experience in national security and intelligence matters.

She is mandated to:

  • examine and assess interference by China, Russia and other foreign states or nonstate actors, including any potential impacts, to confirm the integrity of, and any impacts on, the 43rd and 44th federal general elections at the national and electoral district levels; and
  • assess the capacity of federal entities to detect, deter and counter foreign interference targeting Canada’s democratic processes; and
  • to make any recommendations she deems appropriate to better protect Canada’s democratic processes from foreign interference, including in relation to the creation and dissemination of intelligence, relevant supports and protections for members of diasporas, and the mechanisms that were in place to protect the integrity of the 43rd and 44th elections.

Inquiry timelines

The Commissioner is directed to deliver an interim report by February 29, 2024, and a final report by December 2024. She may also deliver:

a classified report containing any relevant classified content, if required, and a report suitable for disclosure to the public.

The short timelines reflect the determination of the opposition parties to have the inquiry results before the next federal election, which must be held on or before 20 October 2025.

Impossible mandate and impossible timelines

Independent intelligence expert Wesley Wark spoke with CBC Newsworld anchor Heather Hiscox on 8 September 2023 and decried the Inquiry’s

impossible mandate and impossible timelines

In his blog post, published just after the announcement of the inquiry, Wark elaborates on the scope of the two phases of the inquiry, with the aim of the first being

to assess foreign interference in the 2019 and 2021 elections and to look at intelligence flows to decision-makers in the context of the 2019 and 2021 elections.

The second phase

will be more forward looking, to examine the capabilities of the security and intelligence community to deal with foreign interference.

Other foreign states and non-state actors

Wark cites NDP pressure as the reason why, in addition to China and Russia, the inquiry will examine and assess interference by “other foreign states and non-state actors”, adding that it is hard to know where the boundaries of “other” might stop.

Phase One, while broader in overall scope, will necessarily repeat the work of David Johnston, but as Wark notes:

There is no reference to the Commission drawing on the special rapporteur’s report.

Nor is there any reference to the two independent reviews being conducted by the National Security and Intelligence Review Agency and by the National Security and Intelligence Committee of Parliamentarians.

Wark comments:

The absence of cross-walks is surprising and may hamper the work of the review bodies and the Inquiry.

All will be siloed, for no obvious purpose. comments:

There may be no obvious purpose — or good reason — for this wasteful siloing, but there would appear to an obvious reason: that one or more of the opposition parties did not want to give any credence to anything associated with the Johnston report, whatever the practical consequences.

As for Phase Two, Wesley Wark asks what he calls a “BIG question”:

Will Justice Hogue have the time and experience… to come up with valuable recommendations on enhancing Canada’s ability to counter foreign interference in all its aspects—that range far beyond election interference into such areas as espionage, IP theft, cyber aggression, economic intrusions; intimidation of diaspora communities; disinformation campaigns.

To this question, he adds an all-important reminder:

a judicial inquiry into foreign interference is not the same as a much-needed review of Canada’s intelligence capacity writ large.

Wark’s closing sentiment also merits inclusion here:

I wish that all involved had been more imaginative about creating an independent, expert mechanism to examine foreign interference.

But no, we go with the old and tired formula of an inquiry under the Inquiries Act with all its legal parameters and precious little time to learn and breathe.

More advice for Justice Hogue

For those wanting more sage advice from the ever-productive Wesley Wark, he has followed up his 7 September 2023 blog post on the just-established federal judicial inquiry into foreign interference with an 8th September post entitled Some advice for Justice Hogue on her foreign interference inquiry.

Here is one of several recommendations that we heartily endorse:

Do not shy away from criticizing the media presentation of election interference issues should that seem necessary. It won David Johnston no friends, but you are not in the friends-winning game.


We begin once again with the Russia-Ukraine War Report Card, Sept. 5, 2023, prepared by the  Belfer Russia-Ukraine War Task Force:

September 5 update: Ongoing territorial stalemate…. Net territorial change in the past month: Russia +12.

For the period 25 August to 1 September 2023, Russia in Review begins its list of “7 Things to Know” with the following information:

Ukrainian officials say they have breached the first of three lines of Russian defense in the southern region of Zaporizhzhia.

According to Jack Watling of RUSI, of Russia’s typical three lines of defence, the second one is the main one in this conflict.

It has:

properly dug trenches and concrete-reinforced firing posts, tank obstacles, ground-laid cable to coordinate artillery strikes, and even more mines.

In short, the breakthrough claimed by Ukraine is in relation to a much “easier” part of the Russian defences than what is to come.

Russia Analytical Report, Aug. 28-Sept. 5, 2023

In the “Ideas to Explore” section of the latest Belfer Russia Analytical Report, reference is made to a commentary in War on the Rocks where Michael Kofman of CEIP and Rob Lee of FPRI write:

Ukraine’s 3-month-old counteroffensive neither is over, nor has it failed, but the war will continue well into 2024 and the West should plan its support for the Ukrainian military accordingly.

The Belfer Report also cites Australian Army Maj. Gen. Mick Ryan, in his Foreign Affairs piece entitled How Ukraine Can Win a Long War (30 August 2023), where he sees the war “continuing into 2024 and beyond” and urges the West to keep supporting Ukraine. comments:

These arguments are a recipe for endless war in Ukraine and we reject them categorically.

Our viewpoint is bolstered by another assessment of the state of the counteroffensive, discussed in the Belfer report.

After arguing that Ukrainian commanders and officials now realize that giving Moscow time to build its defences was a strategic mistake, journalists Daniel Michaels and Isabel Coles quote Pasi Paroinen, a Finnish open-source intelligence analyst:

If Ukrainians don’t get a breakthrough, there is nothing stopping the Russians from just digging some more trenches or counterattacking.

What about the Russian endgame for this war?

Given that most “expert” Western analyses begin and end with “Putin won’t negotiate,” it is refreshing and encouraging to read a new commentary by the Quincy Institute’s Anatol Lieven entitled Few Russians wanted the war in Ukraine — but they won’t accept a Russian defeat either (, 30 August 2023).

The underbanner to this commentary reads:

Many fear that if Ukraine wins, Vladimir Putin would be ousted, unleashing chaos and ushering in a terrifying new era.

Lieven argues that Western commentaries are missing

several longstanding fears that are widespread within the Russian establishment — and indeed in the wider Russian population — that will influence how events play out: fear of defeat, chaos and of each other.

He then offers this assessment:

From conversations I’ve had, it appears that a large majority of elite and ordinary Russians would accept a ceasefire along the present battle lines and would not mount any challenge if Putin proposed or agreed to such a ceasefire and presented it as a sufficient Russian victory.

In Lieven’s view, while hardline nationalist elements in the Russian establishment and military would be “deeply unhappy,” they have been “weakened” by Prigozhin’s fall and the “accompanying steps” that Putin has taken to curb their influence.

In addition, the hardline Russian nationalists’ preferred programme of total victory in Ukraine,

would entail the complete mobilisation of the population and the economy along the lines of 1942, would be deeply unpopular among most of the population and would pose a mortal threat to the property of the economic elites — which is doubtless why Putin has so far rejected it.

But  Lieven is also quick to point out that

The general elite aversion to pursuing total victory in Ukraine is however not the same thing as a willingness to accept Russian defeat — which is all that the Ukrainian and US governments are presently offering.

Lieven found “nobody” within the Moscow elite and “very few” in the wider population who said that Russia should surrender Crimea and the eastern Donbas.

He continues:

Unless Russian sovereignty over these territories is formally recognised by Ukraine — something that Kyiv has categorically excluded — the Russians who take this view believe that Russia must hold the additional territory it has taken since last year’s invasion, to head off any future Ukrainian attack on Crimea and the Donbas.

Lieven emphasises that, while “there was no evidence” that either the Russian elite or ordinary Russians wanted the invasion to happen in the first place,

there is still a general unwillingness to see Russia defeated and humiliated in Ukraine.

Lieven makes a further, critical, point:

Elite fears of Russian defeat are linked to an ultimate fear of Russian anarchy, which is shared by much of the population at large.

He continues:

Fears of a new Time of Troubles have very deep roots in Russian culture and were strongly revived by the disastrous experience of the 1990s.

He offers a telling perspective from the “smaller business community”:

the owner of a chain of cafes told me that despite very considerable anger at the corruption of Putin’s cronies, most of the businesspeople of her acquaintance are still loyal to Putin because he ended the mafia extortions and conflicts of the 1990s, which had made running a successful business not just very hard but sometimes fatal.

Finally, he elaborates on the Russian elite’s “fear of each other, or even… of themselves”:

The chaos of the 1990s included vicious struggles among the so-called oligarchs including, in some cases, murder.

It would seem that the elites of today believe that without a strong leader like Putin to keep them in order, they would be unable to mediate their differences and hold the state together. comments:

Lieven’s analysis sheds a more nuanced light on the prospects for a meaningful negotiation with Putin which Western strategists should lose no time in further exploring.

Corruption is undermining Ukraine’s potential EU Fast Track to Accession

A 28th August article in Politico by Veronika Melkozerova begins:

President Volodymyr Zelenskyy’s move to equate wartime corruption with treason is triggering a backlash from officials and watchdogs, who warn the plan could hobble Ukraine’s main anti-graft forces.

Melkozerova cites two senior officials, who were granted anonymity to speak candidly, who assert that

concerns are growing within Ukraine’s anti-graft agencies that Zelenskyy’s plan will take top corruption cases away from their oversight and pass them to the Security Service of Ukraine (SBU), which falls under the president’s command.

This in turn means that

The SBU could, potentially, have the power to bury corruption cases involving top officials. The move… could put Ukraine’s anti-corruption infrastructure under threat, and anti-corruption watchdogs are sounding the alarm.

In the view of Vitaly Shabunin, head of the Anti-Corruption Action Center (Antac), a Ukrainian nongovernmental organization that monitors graft,

By equating corruption to treason, Zelenskyy’s office is manipulating the public’s desire for justice. In reality… Zelenskyy’s office is pursuing other goals: to protect high-level officials from corruption charges and obtain tools to destroy opponents.

Shabunin explained further:

SBU will investigate the same cases as NABU [the National Anti-Corruption Bureau of Ukraine], which means that evidence in ‘sensitive’ cases for the president’s office will be destroyed.

After [President’s Office Deputy Head Oleg] Tatarov’s case was transferred from NABU to the SBU — it was buried there.… Now the office wants to make that into practice.

Ominously, Zelensky is already acting to begin the process of changing the law to grant him this new authority.

Curbing corruption a key condition for EU membership talks

Curbing endemic corruption is one of 7 conditions that Ukraine must meet to start EU membership negotiations. A European Union report released in June indicated that Ukraine had met only 2 of the conditions, on judicial reform and media law.

RI President Peggy Mason comments:

The extraordinary powers granted to leaders in wartime are leading President Zelensky further away, not closer to, membership in the European Union. This is yet another powerful argument for beginning consideration of a realistic diplomatic strategy to end the conflict.

 Whither Canada?

We call again on the Government of Canada to vigorously pursue, within NATO and through bilateral channels with the Biden administration, a diplomatic strategy for consideration by Ukraine that takes full account of the military realities of the Ukraine war and, we further add, of the war’s negative impact on Ukraine’s ability to meet the conditions for beginning EU membership talks.


In a new report, the International Crisis Group urges the Biden administration to build on the “landmark” steps it has already taken to address the myriad negative impacts of its “ballooning” use of economic sanctions by better aligning its sanctions policy with peacemaking efforts.

Entitled Sanctions, Peacemaking and Reform: Recommendations for U.S. Policymakers (Report No. 8, 28 August 2023), it begins:

The U.S. is levying sanctions more than ever to hold warring parties accountable, restrict their access to resources and nudge them toward negotiations. Yet these measures can have unintended ill effects. Washington should take additional steps to alleviate these problems.

In introducing its recommendations, Crisis Group, while broadly supportive of the use of economic sanctions as an “important tool of U.S. foreign policy,” goes on to say that

they are also a highly imperfect instrument that requires further adaptation.

More work should be done to understand and mitigate the negative effects that sanctions can have on peacemaking.

The report then outlines a series of reforms the U.S. government should undertake, including:

  • Clarifying the foreign policy objectives for the specific sanctions regime, the behaviour that prompted the sanctions, and the actions that target entities can take for sanctions alleviation.
  • Instituting systems for meaningfully reviewing sanctions’ performance including their impact on peacemaking and for recalibrating them as needed.
  • Legislating permanent sanctions “carveouts” so that peacebuilding, conflict resolution and conflict prevention activities can take place.
  • More effectively addressing private sector reluctance to pursue licensed or otherwise permitted transactions in sanctioned or previously sanctioned countries.

The report concludes with the following statement:

[F]ar greater attention — and action — will be required to blunt sanctions’ negative consequences and to help ensure that this tool of U.S. power is most effectively deployed in the service of global peace and security.

Whither Canada?

We have outlined in past blog posts impediments to humanitarian assistance and peacebuilding that Canadian NGOs face in Afghanistan because of Criminal Code sanctions against the Taliban, and we have reviewed Canadian government efforts to address those concerns through Criminal Code amendments.

On 20 June 2023 Bill C-41 received royal assent, the legislative summary for which reads in part:

This enactment amends the Criminal Code in order to create a regime under which the Minister of Public Safety and Emergency Preparedness may authorize an eligible person to carry out, in a geographic area that is controlled by a terrorist group and for certain purposes, activities that otherwise would be prohibited under [the Criminal Code].

Following the passage of the bill, the Aid for Afghanistan Coalition issued a statement that welcomed the adoption of Bill C-41

as a first step in enabling Canadian aid organizations to provide crucial humanitarian assistance in Afghanistan and other similar contexts.

The statement went on:

Looking ahead, there is more work to be done. In the longer term we encourage movement away from requiring aid organizations to seek specific permission to operate and allow for a provision in legislation to ensure swift and efficient assistance to places where and when it is needed most.

In short, Canadian NGOs are seeking exactly the kind of permanent, legislated sanctions relief for peacebuilding activities that the Crisis Group is recommending for U.S. sanctions regimes.

We call on the Government of Canada to legislate a permanent “carveout” from its sanctions regimes for peacebuilding, conflict resolution, and conflict prevention activities.

More broadly, we call on the Government of Canada to institute a broad review of its sanctions policy to mitigate their unintended negative impacts and to better align them with the foreign policy objectives they are intended to serve.

UPCOMING EVENTS: We highlight again two important upcoming conferences

Group of 78 Annual Policy Conference 2023

Entitled Preventing and Stopping Violence: Effective Actions to Curtail Conflict, the Group of 78’s annual policy conference will be held from 26 September to 2 October 2023.

The opening of the event on Tuesday, September 26, will feature three speakers in a hybrid virtual and in-person program:

Paul Rogers, Emeritus Professor of Peace Studies at the University of Bradford (UK), will lead off in the morning, followed in the afternoon by Kai Brand-Jacobsen, President, Peace Action Training and Research Institute of Romania, and Irvin Waller, Professor, Criminology, Faculty of Social Sciences, at the University of Ottawa.

The conference will continue with virtual sessions of panels and speakers until Monday, October 2, 2023.

For registration information, click HERE.

Institute for Peace and Diplomacy (IPD) to host Middle East Strategy Forum 2023

The Institute for Peace & Diplomacy (IPD) is hosting the 3rd Annual Middle East Strategy Forum (MESF 2023) on September 26, 2023 at the Delta Hotel in downtown Ottawa. This year’s conference theme is The Middle East in a Multipolar World.

RI President Peggy Mason, a member of the IPD Board of Advisors, will moderate Panel 3, “The Future of the Nuclear Non-Proliferation Regime in the Middle East: Iran and Beyond” from 4:30 to 5:30 pm, which will feature:

Chen Zak Kane, Middle East Nonproliferation Program Director, James Martin Center for Nonproliferation Studies, Middlebury Institute for International Studies; Founder, Middle East Next Generation Arms Control Network;

Farzan Sabet, Researcher, Middle East WMD-Free Zone Project, United Nations Institute for Disarmament Research;

Kelsey Davenport, Director for Nonproliferation Policy, Arms Control Association; and

Henry Rome, Senior Fellow, Washington Institute for Near East Policy.

For the full conference program, click HERE.

Photo credit: Wikimedia Commons (National Anti-Corruption Bureau of Ukraine). is a public outreach project of the Rideau Institute linking Canadians working together for peace. We depend on your donations as we accept no funding from government or industry to protect our independence. Thank you for your support….   


Tags: Aid for Afghanistan Coalition, Anatol Lieven, Belfer Russia-Ukraine War Task Force, Bill C-41, corruption, Crisis Group and U.S. sanctions, foreign interference inquiry, Honourable Marie-Josée Hogue, humanitarian carveouts, U.S. sanctions policy, Ukraine and EU accession, Ukraine war, Ukraine war and diplomacy, Vitaly Shabunin, Wesley Wark