CANADA

MOSCOW BOUND

MULRONEY HOPES TO INCREASE HIS POPULARITY WITH A SPLASHY VISIT TO THREE CITIES IN THE SOVIET UNION

LISA VAN DUSEN November 20 1989
CANADA

MOSCOW BOUND

MULRONEY HOPES TO INCREASE HIS POPULARITY WITH A SPLASHY VISIT TO THREE CITIES IN THE SOVIET UNION

LISA VAN DUSEN November 20 1989

MOSCOW BOUND

CANADA

MULRONEY HOPES TO INCREASE HIS POPULARITY WITH A SPLASHY VISIT TO THREE CITIES IN THE SOVIET UNION

As Prime Minister Brian Mulroney’s tour director, Luc Lavoie has to be aware of any unusual customs or potential problems that may derail the travel plans of his boss—and the journalists who accompany him. Last week, during a media briefing on Mulroney’s five-day trip next week to the Soviet Union, Lavoie instructed journalists about some of the vagaries they should prepare for. He warned reporters not to drink the water from Moscow city taps and to bring their own bath towels—often not supplied in Soviet hotels. But Lavoie also demonstrated that some problems confronting visitors to the Soviet Union have humorous consequences. While on an advance visit in September, Lavoie recalled, a staff member ordered a beer in a hard-currency bar, set up by the Soviet government to allow tourists to buy drinks in their own money and to bring valuable foreign currency into the cash-starved Soviet government. Said Lavoie: “The bartender gave him some [West German] deutsche marks for change—and a pack of bubble gum.” Canadians may be inundated with similar snippets of Soviet life as scores of Canadian journalists shadow Mulroney and his wife, Mila, during next week’s engagements in three Soviet cities. The Prime Minister, who arrives in Moscow on Nov. 20, will also visit Leningrad and Kiev in the first official visit of a Canadian leader to the Soviet Union since Pierre Trudeau went in 1971. Mulroney is also one of the few leaders of a major Western country who has not yet paid an official visit to Mikhail Gorbachev, but the two men met informally for 45 minutes in 1985 when Mulroney travelled to Moscow for the funeral of Gorbachev’s predecessor, Konstantin Chernenko. During his visit—almost two years under discussion— Mulroney is expected to sign agreements on trade and Arctic co-operation. Maclean ’s has

also learned that Mulroney may announce the opening of a second Canadian legation in the Soviet Union—in Kiev.

With the Prime Minister’s popularity at home at its lowest level ever, his staff has been eager to court some of the most intensive media coverage ever planned for a Mulroney trip. Earlier this month, Gallup Canada Inc. reported that approval of the Mulroney government has sunk to 21 per cent of those polled by the organization—compared with 43 per

cent of Canadians who voted for Conservatives in last November’s election. But the dramatic events unfolding throughout the Soviet Bloc present Mulroney’s handlers with an opportunity to cast the Prime Minister in a leading—and newsworthy—role on the world stage. Said Lavoie: “We have never seen a visit by the Prime Minister that has attracted so much attention from the media— especially television.”

Indeed, more than 100 journalists will form the largest segment of a party that also includes a physician and 16 officials from the Prime Minister’s Office and the external affairs department. The media entourage is so large that, once the Canadians are in the Soviet Union, they will travel in two planes. A third plane—a Canadian Armed Forces Hercules— will carry television and communications equipment.

Mulroney has said that he hopes to use his Soviet visit as a vehicle to foster closer economic ties with the Soviet Union. To that end, he will meet in Moscow with Soviet Prime Minister Nikolai Ryzhkov and is scheduled to spend Nov. 21 in talks with Gorbachev at the Kremlin. Those meetings are expected to result in bilateral trade agreements—an initiative that has earned praise from many Canadian businessmen. In fact, 240 Canadian businessmen, under the sponsorship of the newly formed Canada-U.S.S.R. Business Council, will visit the Soviet Union at the same time as Mulroney—their interest heightened by recent disclosures that a group of Canadian businessmen are working towards finalizing a major development deal in Leningrad (Maclean’s, Nov. 13). The council itself, launched last June by Canadian entrepreneurs and their counterparts in Soviet state enterprises to foster bilateral trade and investment, will hold its

inaugural meeting in Moscow on Nov. 22.

At the same time, Mulroney and Gorbachev are expected to put their signatures to an Arctic co-operation treaty. That treaty, finalized last November, will likely lay the groundwork for more co-operation between the two countries in such areas as science and technology. The two leaders may also agree to terms for signing a treaty committing both sides to greater efforts in environmental protection. Other subjects may also intrude on the discussions. For one thing, Mulroney may raise

the issue of human rights with the Soviet leader, despite the advances made during the current reforms. And Gorbachev may want to discuss his 1987 proposal for Arctic demilitarization, a subject that Canadian officials have said should instead be dealt with in a multinational forum.

During their two nights in Moscow, the Mulroneys will stay in a two-bedroom wing of an official guesthouse within the walls of the Kremlin—normally reserved for heads of

state. They will also attend a gala performance of the Bolshoi Ballet in Moscow. In Leningrad, they will visit the Hermitage museum, and Mulroney will also address the Arctic and Antarctic Institute of Leningrad. Although Mila Mulroney’s itinerary had not been finalized last week, she was expected to spend time with Gorbachev’s economist wife, Raisa, while the two leaders are in meetings.

During the two-day visit to Kiev, Mulroney will lay a wreath at the monument to 19thcentury Ukrainian poet and nationalist hero Taras Shevchenko. And the Kiev visit may also result in the announcement that Canada intends to open a consulate in the Ukrainian city. Mulroney’s advisers acknowledge that the move would be inspired by the government’s strained relations with the 750,000 Canadians of Ukrainian descent, many of whom live in Western Canada, where support for the Tories in the three Prairie provinces is lower—at 14 per cent— than anywhere else in the country. In 1985, the Deschênes Commission of Inquiry on War Criminals outraged the ethnic group with a proposal to travel to the Soviet Union to hear evidence about Second World War atrocities. More than 1,000 UkrainianCanadians marched on Parliament Hill to protest against the planned trip, alleging that Soviet evidence would be fabrications. The trip never took place, and, indeed, some officials in the Prime Minister’s Office have said that one of the reasons why Mulroney himself did not travel to the Soviet Union earlier was a concern that such a visit might further alienate Ukrainian-Canadians.

Now, Ukrainian-Canadian spokesmen say that they would welcome the plans for a Kiev consulate. For one thing, it would make contact with relatives in the southern Soviet republic easier. Said Andrij Hluchowecky, a spokesman for the Ukrainian Canadian Committee: “A consulate will assure an important constituency that the Canadian government recognizes the major contribution we have made to this country.” It was clearly with such sentiments in mind that Mulroney’s aides were doing their best last week to ensure that his Soviet visit yields not only better diplomatic relations abroad, but also increased support among voters at home.

LISA VAN DUSEN in Ottawa