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Champagne heads to Europe to discuss Iran crash in Ukraine, meet troops in Latvia


OTTAWA — Foreign Affairs Minister Francois-Philippe Champagne says he will make a renewed push for compensation for families of people who died in the Ukraine International Airlines crash on a three-country trip to eastern Europe next week.

Champagne said Thursday he will meet top airline officials in Ukraine, as part of a two-track approach to securing compensation for the families of the 57 Canadians who were killed last month when Iran shot down a Ukrainian plane leaving Tehran for Kyiv.

He will discuss the efforts to press for financial compensation from both Ukraine International Airlines and Iran, which has admitted it fired two missiles at Ukraine International Airlines Flight 752, killing all 176 people on board.

Citizens of Britain, Sweden, Afghanistan and Ukraine also died, and Champagne is chairing an international response group for foreign ministers from those countries to keep pressure on Tehran.

In Kyiv, Champagne said, he will first try to speed up the compensation the airline must pay under international aviation law.

"I have made a plea to them to accelerate that payment. It's statutory. What I was told is that a law firm had been appointed in London to deal with that ... we were providing the next of kin information for that payment to be effected as soon as possible," Champagne said.

"So next week, I will be pushing for that. The families deserve to be paid and deserve to be paid quickly."

Champagne said his scheduled meeting with the chief executive of the Ukrainian airline will be his second priority.

The minister is still pushing Iran for compensation and plans to raise it in an upcoming call with the response group of foreign ministers.

"Once Iran has admitted full responsibility, it comes with consequences, one of which is obviously to compensate the family under international standards."

In Latvia, Champagne will visit the 600 Canadian troops who have been leading a NATO battlegroup in that country since 2017.

The battlegroup, which includes soldiers from several other countries, is one of four such forces in the Baltics and Poland that were established to respond to Russia's annexation of Ukraine's Crimea region in 2014, to discourage further military incursions.

Canada has made a commitment to the mission to 2023 but Karlis Eihenbaums, Latvia's ambassador to Canada, said his country would like to see that extended because the problems with Russia — including disinformation campaigns — show no signs of abating.

While NATO has accused Russia of interfering in Western elections, Russian information attacks on Latvia centre on rewriting history to glorify its Soviet Union past, said Eihenbaums.

And that is ramping up as the 75th anniversary of the end of the Second World War is being celebrated this year, he said.

"They're coming back with the Soviet narrative blaming the West for the war, basically, and putting themselves out as liberators of everything," he said.

"Those who came to liberate from Nazism stayed and occupied huge parts of Europe, including Latvia. This occupation lasted until 1991."

Champagne will also use the visit to push for support for Canada's bid for a temporary seat on the United Nations Security Council during a meeting with his Latvian counterpart, Edgars Rinkevics, said Eihenbaums.

Eihenbaums said Latvia isn't making its voting intention known in advance of June's secret ballot at the UN General Assembly, where Canada is competing against Norway and Ireland for two seats for a two-year term that would start in 2021.

Champagne will also visit Poland, which is another member of the 29-country NATO alliance.

This report by The Canadian Press was first published Feb. 27, 2020.

Mike Blanchfield, The Canadian Press

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