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Moscow summons Canada envoy over Joly 'regime change' comment

OTTAWA — Russia has summoned Canada's top envoy to Moscow over Foreign Affairs Minister Mélanie Joly's musings about "regime change.
Sunset lights the Kremlin and frozen Moscow River in Moscow, Russia, Sunday, Jan. 16, 2022. THE CANADIAN PRESSAP, Alexander Zemlianichenko

OTTAWA — Russia has summoned Canada's top envoy to Moscow over Foreign Affairs Minister Mélanie Joly's musings about "regime change."

Moscow says it summoned Canadian chargé d’affaires Brian Ebel on Monday to tell him that Joly's comments were unacceptable.

Russia's foreign ministry warned in a Tuesday statement in English that her comments "will have the most serious consequences for bilateral relations."

Joly said earlier this month that western sanctions in response to Russia's invasion of Ukraine are having an impact, because the world is seeing effects "on society and how much we're seeing potential regime change in Russia."

Speaking at a March 10 event, Joly added that Canada needs to isolate Russia "economically, politically and diplomatically."

When The Canadian Press asked Joly if Ottawa is now seeking regime change in Moscow, she responded that Canada is focused on punishing the regime of Russian President Vladimir Putin, instead of the Russians who live under his reign.

Russia argues that this amounts to meddling in domestic affairs, counter to the 1961 Vienna Convention that governs diplomatic relations.

"The Canadian diplomat’s attention was drawn to the fact that remarks of this sort were inadmissible and at variance with Canada’s obligations," the Russian foreign ministry wrote.

"It was underscored that Russia reserved the right to take relevant countermeasures depending on the further steps of the ruling Trudeau regime, in the context of its declared course of confrontation with Russia."

Joly's office suggested she will not retract her comments.

"President Putin has invaded his neighbour and is responsible for war crimes and crimes against humanity," wrote spokesman Adrien Blanchard in an email statement.

"As Minister Joly has said, we are focused on isolating the Russian regime, emptying its war chest and holding it to account for its crimes."

Bilateral trade has collapsed between the two countries, who have summoned each other's envoys over issues such as Ottawa's provision of security for Russian diplomats and Russia's embassy posting social-media messages that upset the LGBTQ community. 

Moscow summoned Ebel in his capacity as Canada's chargé d’affaires, which is someone who stands in for an ambassador. Global Affairs Canada would not confirm if ambassador Alison LeClaire has ended her term or was on leave this week.

Russia previously summoned LeClaire last December, in protest of Ottawa doing the same five times last year to Russian ambassador Oleg Stepanov.

Summoning an ambassador is a normally a rare occurrence that countries undertake to formally object to either the policies of the foreign country or the conduct of their diplomatic mission.

This report by The Canadian Press was first published March 21, 2023.

Dylan Robertson, The Canadian Press

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