Category Archives: Canada

Canadian soldiers land in Ukraine for training mission

Less than a year after Prime Minister Stephen Harper told Russian President Vladimir Putin to “get out of Ukraine,” Canadian soldiers have landed in the troubled country.

There are 150 of them to be precise — military personnel with expertise in explosives detonation and other battlefields skills.

When Harper was at the G20 Summit in Australia last November, he told Putin: “I guess I’ll shake your hand, but I only have one thing to say to you: you need to get out of Ukraine.”

These troops are there to train and prepare the Ukrainian army for battle.

“We have a mandate there until March 2017,” said Maj. Isabel Bresse, adding 90 troops landed this week and 60 the week before.

Defence Minister Jason Kenney announced in April that Canadian troops would be dispatched to the global hot spot. He stressed the soldiers would be stationed far from any fighting and be charged with the task of training Ukrainian forces.

The soldiers, from 2 Canadian Mechanized Brigade Group (2 CMBG) — based at CFB Petawawa — will be stationed in the months ahead at the Ukrainian Armed Forces International Security and Peacekeeping Centre in Yavoriv, minutes from the border that divides Ukraine and Poland.

The military personnel — the most recently arrived group landed Monday — are the first boots on the ground as part of Operation UNIFIER. Their job is to help get the Ukrainian army up to top fighting form while the Eastern European country continues its military and political struggles with Putin’s Russia.

More than 6,000 people have died in the fighting. It’s a conflict that has been heating up this week with people, including a police officer, killed in protests outside of Ukraine’s parliament.

Harper has talked tough since the Russian invasion and annexation of Crimea and the shooting down last July of a Malaysia Airlines jet over eastern Ukraine which killed 298 innocent people.

And now that talk has turned to action.

“We’re here to pass on our knowledge to our Ukrainian partners to ensure they have the skills to survive and thrive on the battlefield,” Lt.-Col. Jason Guiney — commander of Canada’s Joint Task Force Ukraine — said in a statement sent to me by the Canadian Armed Forces. “Our soldiers are ready for this mission and we’re looking forward to being in the field and working on the fundamentals of soldiering.”

It’s a busy time for Canada’s military. This mission comes after 10 years of fierce fighting in Afghanistan and policing missions in the skies over Lithuania. Toronto Sun photographer Ernest Doroszuk and I travelled to both and got a sense of the appreciation and respect regular people on the ground had for Canada’s stand and contribution.

This is the second major military operation involving Canadians during the federal election. Canada is also helping to battle ISIS in the skies over Iraq and Syria.

It’s mainly ground work in Ukraine.

“One of the specialized training activities will consist of an explosive ordinance disposal and an improvised explosive device disposal program at the Ukrainian Ministry of Defence De-mining Centre in Kamyanets-Podilsky. Canadian engineers will be partnering with Ukrainian soldiers to enhance their existing counter improvised explosive device operations,” said a Department of National Defence fact sheet.

At a time when a politician comparing unarmed Canadian vets providing security for Harper with Nazis grabbed headlines, it’s a good time to get behind our brave men and women in uniform.

In a democracy, the politics of where our troops go and why should always be debated. But once that decision is made, their safety and sacrifice — and our backing of them — never should be.

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Saskatchewan and Alberta ambulances donated to Ukraine

Ambulances are a key tool on the front lines of any emergency. That’s why a bunch of volunteers, paramedic groups, and the provincial and federal government are helping send four of them to Ukraine.

The ambulances are from Saskatoon, Parkland Ambulance in Prince Albert, Sask., Duck Mountain EMS and Associated Ambulance services in Edmonton. They are due to arrive in Kyiv, Ukraine sometime next week.

Dave Dutchak is a consultant with MD Ambulance, and he’s also a member of a Saskatchewan-Ukrainian Relations Advisory Committee that reports to the province.

“There’s a significant need there with what’s going on over there,” he said. “There are some reports they could use up to 45 ambulances, and so we’re looking at a two-phase project, this being the first phase with four ambulances.”

He says he hopes there will be more ambulances to send again next year.

The group held a display in Saskatoon Saturday afternoon to share more information about the donation during Ukrainian Day in the Park at Kiwanis Park.

The donation comes with help from many volunteers, paramedic and health professional groups, as well as the provincial and federal governments.

Dutchak said the groups that planned for the donation include MD Ambulance, the Paramedic Chiefs of Canada, Saskatchewan Emergency Medical Services Association, the Saskatchewan-Ukrainian Relations Advisory Committee, the Ukrainian-Canadian Congress and its Saskatchewan branch and EuroMaidan Canada.

He hopes it shows people in Ukraine that people in Canada — including health professionals — are supporting them. He hopes to have up to 12 more ambulances from Canada make their way to Ukraine by next year.

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Arctic Sunrise case: Russia ordered to pay damages

An international court has ordered to Russia to pay damages to the Netherlands over its seizure of a ship protesting against oil drilling.

The Permanent Court of Arbitration in The Hague said the amount of damages would be decided at a later date.

Russia did not take part in the hearings and it is not clear whether it will comply with the ruling.
The Russian authorities confiscated the Dutch-flagged Arctic Sunrise in September 2013.

The ship and 30 people on board were detained after activists from the Greenpeace campaign group tried to scale a Russian oil rig.
The court found that Russia had breached its obligations under the UN Convention on the Law of the Sea.

It said the Netherlands was “entitled to compensation (with interest) for material damage to the Arctic Sunrise”.

Dutch Foreign Minister Bert Koenders welcomed the ruling, saying it “makes clear that the Netherlands – as the flag state – had the right to stand up for the ship’s crew”.
“The Netherlands sees freedom of expression and the right to demonstrate as public goods that are worth defending,” Mr Koenders went on.

The detainees – known as the Arctic 30 – were initially charged with piracy, but the charges were later reduced to hooliganism.
They were released on bail in November 2013 and the charges were later dropped after an amnesty law was passed.

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Russia vetoes Security Council proposal on MH17 tribunal

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Russia on Wednesday vetoed a U.N. Security Council resolution that would set up an international criminal court to prosecute those responsible for shooting down a Malaysia Airlines plane over Ukraine a year ago.

The foreign ministers of the Netherlands, Australia and Ukraine attended a meeting over the downing that killed all 298 people on board Flight MH17. The countries are among the five nations investigating the incident, along with Malaysia and Belgium.

Ukraine and the West suspect the plane, traveling from Amsterdam to Kuala Lumpur, was hit by a surface-to-air missile fired by Russian soldiers or Russia-backed separatist rebels on July 17, 2014. Russia denies that, and state media have alleged the plane was shot down by a Ukrainian missile or warplane.

“Russia has callously disregarded the public outcry in the grieving nations,” U.S. Ambassador Samantha Power said, adding that the United States was among the 18 countries that lost citizens in the disaster.

Foreign Minister Julie Bishop of Australia, which lost 39 citizens, said, “The veto only compounds the atrocity.” Three countries abstained from the vote: China, Angola and Venezuela, whose ambassador said victims’ suffering shouldn’t be used politically.

Wednesday’s vote followed a last-minute effort to lobby Russian President Vladimir Putin, who has said setting up a tribunal would not make sense while the investigation continued.

The Dutch ambassador to the U.N., Karel van Oosterom, tweeted a statement saying Prime Minister Mark Rutte told Putin that “it was preferable to make a decision about the tribunal before the facts and charges have been established precisely in order to avoid politicizing the prosecution process.”

But the Kremlin quoted Putin as saying a tribunal would be “inexpedient” because Russia still has “a lot of questions” about the investigation to which it had little access.

Russia had offered its own draft that demanded justice for those responsible for the crash without calling for a tribunal. Russian Ambassador Vitaly Churkin told the council after the vote that such a tribunal risked not being impartial and being subject to media “propaganda,” and he called past tribunals for the Rwanda genocide and the violence in the former Yugoslavia “expensive.”

Ministers from the five investigating countries, along with allies in the 15-member council, later stressed that other legal options are available, but some acknowledged that a tribunal established by the council remains the best option. Some indicated they might pursue it again.

“We will very quickly agree on the next step,” Dutch Foreign Minister Bert Koenders told reporters. “I assure you we haven’t lost time.”

The foreign ministers also met Wednesday morning with U.N. Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon, who called for justice and accountability.

A preliminary report released in the Netherlands last year said the plane had no technical problems in the seconds before it broke up in the sky after being struck by multiple objects — a conclusion that experts said likely pointed to a missile strike.

The investigation led by the Dutch Safety Board aims only to determine the crash cause, not to ascribe blame. The probe is being led by The Netherlands because 196 of the victims were Dutch.

A separate probe by the Dutch national prosecutor’s office aims to establishing who was responsible. This investigation includes authorities from Ukraine, Malaysia and other countries whose nationals were among the victims, but Russia is not a participant.

One possibility that wasn’t discussed Wednesday is the International Criminal Court, which takes on cases of war crimes, crimes against humanity or genocide in states that can’t or won’t take on the matter themselves.

West Has Changed Its Thinking on Russia

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Discussions are under way in several Western capitals on how to develop a broad strategy to counter the dangers to Europe posed by Moscow’s decision to break out of the security system that it co-authored with the West at the end of the Cold War.

For governments that have tried for nearly 25 years to develop relations based on partnership and cooperation with Russia, the adjustment to a model of confrontation and competition is challenging both intellectually and institutionally, particularly since the expertise of the Cold War generation of analysts and strategists has been largely lost.

The first challenge is to accept that for all the effort expended, the attempt to build relations with Russia based on shared values and interests failed.

While Western countries made many mistakes in their handling of Russia, in particular, the backing of economic reforms that created oligarchic capitalism, the fundamental reason for this outcome was Russia’s relapse into a traditional model of governance and its insistence on the need to undercut the independence of the other post-Soviet countries to ensure its security.

The Russian leadership is seeking a new set of rules that give Russia the right to limit its neighbors’ sovereignty. This is part of a broader effort to reduce the dominance of Western institutions and realign global forces to Russia’s advantage. The objective is to secure and reinforce the existing Russian development model by reducing external competitive pressures.

For all its internal logic, this strategic choice carries enormous risks. Confronting the West deprives Russia of an important balancing force in handling its relations with China and threatens to isolate Russia from the sources of modernization traditionally provided by Europe.

Russia is using a mix of powerful instruments to achieve its goals: for example, political, diplomatic, economic, military and information tools. However, Russia is playing a strong hand from a fragile base. It has clear economic weaknesses and over time, its internal political cohesion could prove brittle in the absence of improved governance and social provision.

The West needs to see the bigger picture and focus on encouraging Russia back on to a reformist course with adapted foreign and security policies that are stabilizing for Russia and Europe.

Rapid Western technological development coinciding with the stagnation of the economy forced the Soviet leadership in the 1980s to reshape the international environment to provide it with a breathing space to reform.

What is striking about Russia’s behavior over the past 15 months is that Moscow has returned seemingly without concern to the policies of confrontation that the Soviet Union abandoned because they were unaffordable.

This has happened at a time when the Russian economy had already begun to stagnate after its impressive successes a decade ago. It clearly lacks the resilience to sustain high levels of military spending over the medium to long term.

The outline of an effective Western strategy is simple. It needs to play for time to apply its strengths against Russia’s weaknesses. The foundations should consist of five elements.

First, making it clear to Moscow that Western countries remain wedded to the principle that countries in Europe, both large and small, have the sovereign right to conduct their own foreign policies and choose their allies as they wish.

Second, reinforcing the integrity of NATO. The alliance’s military capabilities have been hollowed out over the past 25 years in the absence of a perceived threat from Russia.

NATO countries took a firm stance on Russia’s actions at last year’s Wales Summit and they need to continue along this path. Above all, they need to underline their determination to uphold the credibility of collective defense.

Third, signaling to Russia that Ukraine will not be left to fail. This is going to require much larger Western financial assistance as well as the type of technical assistance at which the EU excels.

Western countries will also need to reinforce their current support for Ukraine, particularly in the areas of defense cooperation, energy sector reform, security of gas supplies and broader institutional reform.

Fourth, keeping sanctions in place with the possibility of their expansion as long as Russia continues to undermine the sovereignty of its neighbors. For some European countries, the economic losses are going to be harder to bear than for others. Sanctions pain can also be seen as an investment in the EU’s and NATO’s defenses.

Sanctions take time to work and they may already have constrained Russian behavior in Ukraine.

Fifth, educating Western publics about the dangers to Europe from current Russian policies. The Pew Research Center’s recent Global Attitudes survey showed that societies in Europe are well informed about Russia and have drawn certain conclusions about its behavior. However, they have not concluded that their countries need to reinvest in defense.

Western countries are now engaged in a competition with Russia over whose security vision for the continent should prevail.

They should have the confidence that if they apply the right strategy over the medium to longer term, the advantage will lie with them and Russia will be under increasing pressure to abandon its current policies. The critical question is whether they have the will to do so.

Millions in military gear goes to scrap heap instead of Ukraine

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Canada is moving ahead with the destruction of surplus anti-tank missiles and other equipment worth hundreds of millions of dollars despite a plea by Ukraine for such equipment to help it fight separatists.

Among the items declared surplus are more than 5,400 Eryx anti-tank missiles, according to a 2014 Department of National Defence documents leaked to the Citizen.

In addition, there are 10 Husky and Buffalo vehicles, used to clear routes of improvised explosive devices. Those vehicles were purchased in 2007 for use in Afghanistan.

Also surplus are four specialized landmine detection systems and 194 LAV-2 or Light Armoured Vehicles- 2 surveillance vehicles scheduled to be taken out of service this year, according to the documents.

Liberal defence critic Joyce Murray said the stockpiles raise questions about Defence Minister Jason Kenney’s earlier claims that Ukraine’s beleaguered army can’t be provided with useful Canadian equipment because no such gear exists.

Ukrainian officials came to Ottawa in September looking for anti-tank missiles, surveillance gear and armoured vehicles. They say their forces are outgunned by separatists equipped with Russian tanks and other weapons.

But Kenney recently told the Globe and Mail newspaper that Canada has nothing to offer. He ordered an inventory of weapons be done earlier this year and that determined the Canadian Forces did not have useful surplus equipment that could be shipped to Ukraine.

Ukraine’s soldiers use Russian-designed weapons so armaments sent from Canada could not be used, he added.

Canadian military officers say that is the case for small arms and other such weapons. But Canadian anti-tank missiles could be used, surplus armoured vehicles could provide protection for troops, and the Husky and Buffalo vehicles would be valuable in dealing with roadside bombs, military sources noted.

Asked specifically about the missiles and other equipment, Kenney’s spokeswoman Lauren Armstrong stated that the minister had already made his comments about the issue. She referred questions to the Department of National Defence.

The Department of National Defence in an email acknowledged the stockpiles of surplus equipment existed.

But spokesman Dan Le Bouthillier pointed out Friday that in some cases the equipment would either require too much training for the Ukrainians to use or would have to be refurbished for combat operations. In other cases the vehicles are equipped with machine-guns that use NATO ammunition not in Ukraine’s stockpiles.

Canada tried to sell the stockpile of 5,400 Eryx anti-tank missiles but couldn’t find any buyers. So the missiles are now being destroyed, according to DND. The launchers and other related gear are also being destroyed.

“The small number of systems involved would not justify creating the maintenance (spare parts and tools) infrastructure Ukraine would need to operate them,” Le Bouthillier stated. “(Ukraine’s forces) would have to conduct a significant amount of training to enable the use of the system.”

DND also tried to sell some of the Husky and Buffalo vehicles but with no success. Those vehicles, part of a $30- million deal in 2007, will now be destroyed.

Some of the LAV-2s will be sold or destroyed while a disposal strategy for the rest still has to be worked out, according to DND.

The DND hasn’t figured out what to do with the landmine detection systems.

Liberal defence critic Joyce Murray said she is not surprised there is usable surplus equipment available despite what Kenney claimed.

“The minister is saying one thing and we’re finding the opposite is true,” she said. “We never get a straight answer from this government, whether it’s on equipment, whether it’s on procurement, whether it’s about the defence budget.”

In February the Stratfor Global Intelligence organization noted, “a significant portion of the anti-tank weapons Ukraine owns are old and likely inoperable.”

Anti-tank missiles “could give Ukrainian troops a credible capability against separatist and Russian heavy armour,” the private intelligence firm, with close links to the U.S. defence establishment, pointed out. Other needed equipment included armoured transport vehicles and battlefield surveillance gear, Stratfor added.

Canada also has 415 thermal imagers from the Eryx anti-tank weapons, according to the documents. Such devices can detect the heat given off by armoured vehicles and can be used for surveillance.

Canada is a key supporter of Ukraine and has denounced Russian involvement in the ongoing crisis in the region.

The Conservative government has provided more than $570 million worth of aid to Ukraine. Included is non-lethal equipment such as helmets, bulletproof vests and night-vision goggles.

But in August 2014 Vadym Prystaiko, then Ukraine’s Ambassador to Canada, told the Citizen that his country needed Canada and its allies to act immediately by providing “real” military support. Prystaiko noted Ukraine’s wish list included fighter jets, surveillance equipment and light armoured vehicles.

Ukraine troops have also faced improvised explosive devices such as those Canadian soldiers dealt with in Afghanistan with their Husky and Buffalo vehicles.

DND also had around 2,000 TOW 2 missiles, worth $100 million, as part of its surplus stocks, according to the documents. Those missiles, purchased in 2009, have been disposed of but DND could not provide details about whether they were destroyed or sold.

The Canadian Army decided to get rid of the missiles as it tried to deal with cost-cutting measures brought in by the Conservative government.

Canada does not have right weapons to help Ukraine, Defence Minister reveals

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Hinting at how close Canada has come to providing lethal aid to Ukraine in its war against Russian-backed separatists, Defence Minister Jason Kenney said Thursday that he recently ordered a military inventory to determine what weapons Canada could send to the Ukrainian army, if it chose to do so.

The answer that came back was: not much.

Until now, the official reason Canada has hesitated to arm Kiev has been concern that such a move could inflame the conflict in the east of the country. Mr. Kenney revealed that another hurdle is the Canadian military doesn’t have appropriate weapons to give.

“We do not have surplus military kit sitting around in our storehouses that we can ship over to Ukraine. I actually had our military do an inventory of possible equipment, just to prepare for all eventualities. The conclusion is we just don’t have useful, operable equipment that we could send,” Mr. Kenney said, speaking after a meeting of the NATO-Ukraine Commission at the military alliance’s headquarters in Brussels.

A Ministry of Defence official said the inventory of weapons “either scheduled for divestment – or currently in use but scheduled to be divested in the near future” was carried out in February and March of this year, shortly after Mr. Kenney took office. The inventory was also ordered around the same time the Ukrainian-Canadian Congress launched a large-scale lobbying effort, arguing the West’s reluctance to provide weapons to Ukraine “fuels Russia’s escalation.”

Mr. Kenney said Ukrainian Defence Minister Stepan Poltorak used Thursday’s meeting to make the same point, again asking the alliance to provide his country with weapons.

Part of the problem is that the Ukrainian military still uses Soviet weapons systems, meaning that most armaments Canada could send would not be interoperable with the guns and equipment the Ukrainians use. Mr. Kenney said that if Canada did decide to help arm Ukraine, it would involve purchasing weapons that fit the Ukrainian systems.

“It would essentially be us through one of our partnership funds, helping to procure equipment for them,” he said. “But our decision at this point has been not to do so.”

So far Canada, like most NATO countries, has proffered only non-lethal aid, such as uniforms and night-vision goggles. Canada is also providing satellite imagery to Ukrainian forces fighting the Kremlin-backed insurgency in the Donetsk and Lugansk regions.

This summer, 200 Canadian military trainers will arrive at a base in the far west of Ukraine, where they will help prepare new conscripts for the urban warfare being fought in the east of the country.

Despite the overt support for the government in Kiev, Mr. Kenney said Canada didn’t want to act alone in providing armaments to the Ukrainian military.

“The Prime Minister has said that all options are on the table. Our position is essentially the same as the United Kingdom. We continue to review the possibility of providing lethal defensive equipment, but Canada will not act alone in this respect. We believe prudence would require that other major allies participate in that.”

The biggest barrier remains a fear shared by many within NATO that supplying the Ukrainian military with weapons would spur Russia to increase its own involvement in eastern Ukraine.

“Obviously, even though we are very forward-leaning in support of Ukraine’s territorial integrity, we and our allies do not want to escalate the conflict,” Mr. Kenney said.

So far, Lithuania is the only NATO member that has acknowledged supplying arms to Ukraine. Mr. Kenney said he met Thursday with Lithuania’s Defence Minister to discuss the move, which he described as “pretty small-scale stuff. They’re providing machine guns, essentially.”

Olena Prystayko, the head of the Ukrainian Think Tanks liaison office in Brussels, which lobbies the European Union, as well as individual governments, to help Ukraine, said several other governments had indicated a willingness to provide weapons to Ukraine if they saw evidence Moscow and its proxies were trying to capture more territory.

The red line for several governments, she said, was the strategic port city of Mariupol, which is currently under the control of Ukrainian forces, about 20 kilometres from the separatist front lines. Mariupol is seen as key because its fall would make it far easier for the pro-Kremlin armies to connect with Russian forces stationed in Crimea, which Moscow seized and annexed from Ukraine following a controversial referendum there last year.

“If Mariupol is taken by Russia, it would completely change the whole situation,” Ms. Prystayko said. “One of the reasons Mariupol has not been taken by the Russians is that they have been informed that not only sanctions would follow.”

On Thursday, NATO Secretary-General Jens Stoltenberg warned that a February ceasefire deal that has brought relative calm to eastern Ukraine was under threat and there was “a risk of a return to heavy fighting.”

“Russia continues to support the separatists with training, weapons and soldiers. And it has large numbers of forces stationed on its border with Ukraine,” Mr. Stoltenberg told a press conference. He said he still hoped the ceasefire, known as the Minsk agreements, could be salvaged, adding that “without the Minsk agreements I am really afraid that the situation can deteriorate even more.”

At least two Ukrainian soldiers and three civilians have died this week amid escalating fighting along the front line between central government forces and the armies of the self-declared Donetsk and Lugansk “people’s republics.” Both sides accuse the other of violating the Minsk ceasefire on a near-daily basis.

More than 6,000 people have died in the year-old conflict. Russia has consistently denied that it has provided direct support to the separatist armies, claiming that video and satellite evidence of its involvement has been falsified by Western intelligence services.

The Kremlin says the conflict in the east is a popular reaction to the rise of a “fascist” government in Kiev. Moscow also alleges that a 2014 revolution that overthrew the elected government of Viktor Yanukovych was backed by Western governments.

Mr. Kenney flies from Brussels to Kiev on Friday, where he will meet with both Ukrainian President Petro Poroshenko and Prime Minister Arseniy Yatsenyuk. While in Kiev, Mr. Kenney said he will announce a “bundle of relatively small projects” aimed at improving the country’s governance.

He will also travel to the western Ukrainian city of Lviv to meet with 40 Canadian personnel who are deployed there now, preparing the ground for the larger continent of trainers this summer.

Mr. Kenney said that, even after a year of fighting, the Ukrainian army still badly needed the kind of training the Canadian military can provide.

“Quite frankly, what we are hearing from the Brits and the Americans who are a little bit ahead of us in the training operation is just how unprepared and – I’ll put it politely – modestly trained the Ukrainian troops seem to be. There is a lot of very basic military tactics that they’ve never been taught. The conscripts have gone through very basic training and have little or no knowledge of the techniques of modern warfare.”

The Russian Embassy in Ottawa has described Canada’s move to help train the Ukrainian military “deplorable.”

Why Canada stands with Ukraine and what it is doing to help

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Economic and non-lethal military aid comprise Canada’s cautious approach — but that could soon change

From the start of the Ukraine crisis, Canada has been one of the country’s staunchest supporters. Prime Minister Stephen Harper has condemned, in turn, the killing of protesters at Maidan, Russia’s occupation and annexation of Crimea, its move into eastern Ukraine, and its “slow motion” invasion which continues to this day.

Harper was thrust into the international spotlight in November for telling Russian President Vladimir Putin at the Group of 20 summit in Australia to “get out of Ukraine.” He also said it was important to keep the pressure on Russia, no matter how long it takes, until Crimea is returned to Ukrainians. Failing to do so, he added, would only whet Russia’s appetite for similar aggression. While he has vowed to “never accept the illegal occupation of Ukraine by Russia,” Canada’s prime minister has been tight-lipped about whether Canada could give Ukraine weapons and other lethal military aid to fight Kremlin-backed insurgents in the Donbas and its surrounding area. This, however, could change, as Minsk-2 continues to unravel owing to infractions by Russia and the rebels it arms.

Ukraine’s deputy foreign minister says the country is preparing for a full-scale war against Russia and wants Canada to help by supplying lethal weapons and the training to use them. Vadym Prystaiko, who until last year was Ukraine’s ambassador to Canada, says the world must not be afraid of joining Ukraine in a fight against a nuclear power.

In an interview Feb. 21 with the Canadian Broadcasting Corporation (CBC), Prystaiko said the ceasefire brokered by Germany and France is not holding. “We see that they are not stopping,” he said, suggesting the fight was heading south to the port of Mariupol. “They are taking more and more strategic points.”

Jason Kenney, Canada’s Minister of Defence, said in response that Canada doesn’t have large stockpiles of weapons to give, though it could acquire some from other vendors and then supply Ukraine. The backrooms will be buzzing with contingencies and scenarios, while pollsters will soon be gauging public support for such action. At the same time, Ukraine’s National Security and Defense Council is appealing to the United Nations and European Union to deploy a peacekeeping mission in Ukraine’s southeast region. Given its strong reputation in peacekeeping, having pioneered the concept during the Suez Crisis of 1956, Canada could also assist in this way. When the United Kingdom, France and Israel invaded Egyptian territory, Lester Pearson, as Canada’s ambassador to the UN, suggested the creation of a UN Emergency Force to police that area, thus permitting the invading nations to withdraw with a minimum loss of face. For his efforts, Pearson won the Nobel Peace Prize in 1957.

But given Russia’s initial refusal to permit peacekeepers in the region, it appears the more likely course for the West is that of providing lethal defensive weaponry to help Ukraine repel rebel/Russian advances and increase the cost to Russia of continued aggression. In November, Canada provided $11 million in non-lethal aid including cold weather clothing, night vision goggles, and medical training, including a mobile field hospital, aid welcomed by soldiers on the front lines. Last fall, President Petro Poroshenko thanked Canadians while visiting Ottawa for their support, but also came seeking sophisticated surveillance aid for his army. This was declined.

The United States has also been declining Ukrainian requests for lethal military aid, providing last November $52 million in materials similar to those of Canada, and since then the total has risen to $120 million. Europe, likewise, has been reluctant to go the lethal aid route, focusing instead of diplomatic efforts, which now appear exhausted.

In “What the West Can And Should Do For Ukraine,” the European Leadership Network argues for a “broader effort” beyond military aid and sanctions, which have failed to deter the Russian decision-makers but hurt the Russian people and Europe. Further sanctions, it fears, could create a failed state with nuclear weapons. Also in need of attention and help, it says, are reforms, economic development and anti-corruption efforts.

This is consistent with Canada’s multi-pronged policy on Ukraine. Most recently, Canada’s Trade Minister Ed Fast on Jan. 26 in Kyiv announced plans to provide $52 million to support dairy and grain production. And talks about a free trade agreement between Canada and Ukraine continue. “We discussed the outlook for signing a free trade agreement between our countries,” said Ukrainian Economic and Development and Trade Minister Aivaras Abromavicius, an investment banker. “A few sensitive aspects remain. Signing this agreement would help to increase trade with Canada and help increase investment.” The volume of bilateral trade between the two countries increased sharply in 2014 over 2013. According to the State Statistics Service of Ukraine, it amounted to $218.6 million USD, representing a 41 per cent surge in goods from Canada, while Ukraine sent 32 per cent more product to Canada in 2014 than in 2013.

In addition, Canada has been working on bilateral assistance to help Ukraine create a computerized land registry, both to assist the development of agriculture and to discourage illegal land transfers. This $1-million program is a skills and information transfer from professors at Vancouver Island University to those at the University of Kyiv and the Institute of Geography and the National Academy of Sciences. Staff there would then pass along the mapping techniques to the Ukrainian civil service. After nine years as prime minister, Harper is a respected member of the Group of Seven, while Canada is a founding member of the North Atlantic Treaty Organization, which took part in the fight for Kosovo, Afghanistan, and, most recently, Libya. Winston Churchill called Canada the “aerodrome of democracy” during the Second World War because of its network of training facilities for Allied pilots (one of whom was the author’s father, a Halifax bomber pilot who flew 34 operations over Nazi Germany and occupied France in 1944).

With a population of 35 million, only a tenth the size of the United States, Canada is a middle power, more known for its “honest broker” image than its military clout. But this similarity to Ukraine’s population of some 40 million, plus its vast plains, snowy winters and 1.2 million people of Ukrainian descent, make it strongly similar to Ukraine in many key ways, and sympathetic to the struggles of Ukrainians.

Canada’s public life boasts many stars of Ukrainian heritage, such as musician Randy Bachman, astronaut Roberta Bondar, politicians Ray Hnatyshyn (former governor general) and Roy Romanow (former premier of Saskatchewan), TV show host Alex Trebek and hockey players Bill Barilko, Mike Bossy, Dale Hawerchuk and Wayne Gretzky.

Ukrainian immigrants came by the thousands in the early years of the 20th century to clear and farm the rugged land in central Manitoba and Saskatchewan which today boasts proud and successful ethnic-Ukrainian communities such as Dauphin. Without such strong and skilled farmers, Canada would not be the prosperous and successful country it is today, since agriculture was a foundation stone of its early development and continues to be an important part of its economy, with the grandsons and granddaughters of those early settlers continuing, in many cases, to work the land.

The blood is thick, therefore, between Ukraine and Canada, as it is between the U.S. and Canada.

If the U.S. decides, as is possible and even likely, to follow the advice of Steven Pifer and other foreign policy experts to provide defensive weaponry to Ukraine, then Canada and some European states such as Poland are almost sure to follow. Such weapons as anti-tank and anti-mortar systems are not an offensive threat to Moscow but would be of assistance to the Ukrainian army in its bid to prevent the loss of further territory, following fall of Debaltseve in mid-February.

Pifer, a senior fellow at the Brookings Institute and a former Ambassador to Ukraine, supports providing $1 billion in military aid to Ukraine this year and each of the next two. He, Strobe Talbott and six other security experts collaborated to produce the recent study Preserving Ukraine’s Independence, Resisting Russian Aggression: What the United States and NATO Must Do. “For the West,” Pifer wrote in the Washington Post, “the issue goes beyond Ukraine. Russia has torn up the rule book that maintained peace, stability and security for almost 70 years, and it has now used force to change borders. If the West does not push back, it could face challenges, even armed challenges, from Russia elsewhere that require far more costly responses,” referring to Estonia, Latvia and Lithuania, NATO’s Baltic states.

The danger is that such action could trigger an escalation on the Russian side as well. Former secretary of state Henry Kissinger and others warn of escalation and a possible nuclear war, if the West slides further into the conflict and confronts Russia directly. Russia has thousands of nuclear warheads aimed at Western Europe and the U.S., while the U.S. could devastate Russia with Trident II missiles from a few of its Ohio-class submarines. This stand-off called MAD (Mutual Assured Destruction) kept heads cool during the Cold War; whether it will continue to do so remains to be seen.

Pifer is concerned that continued inaction carries more risks to the West in terms of conventional war than the measures he supports. He encourages the U.S. to approach fellow NATO member states about helping Ukraine, though this has almost certainly been done. It is in Canada’s military and political tradition to assist democratic states facing military invasion, as its roles in the First and Second World Wars and the Korean War attest. Canada is currently active in fighting Islamic extremists, with jet fighters deployed to help combat ISIS, while Canadians fought and 158 died as part of the West’s long effort in Afghanistan. Boosting aid to Ukraine isn’t out of the question, and would fit into this foreign policy paradigm.

Prime Minister Harper was the first Group of Seven leader to visit Kyiv after the crisis began and only one to attend Poroshenko’s inauguration last June. As Harper told the Ukrainian president during his visit to Canada in September, “For Canadians, with our deep connections to the Ukrainian people, this is not to us just a matter of international law or political principle, this is a matter of kinship, this is a matter of family, this is personal and we will stand by you.”

John F. Hall Jr: Solutions for the West to end strife, suffering in Ukraine

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The United States and the European Union salute themselves as bastions for freedom, enlightenment, diversity, tolerance, peace, and the rule of law across the globe. Hundreds of American and European lives and billions of dollars and euros are sacrificed on the altar of these principles each year by our governments. The West’s leadership and its delivery on the promise of these values is lacking, however, in righting the wrongs of a growing, devastating cancer in Ukraine, which has extinguished thousands of lives. The toll of lives sacrificed to the Russian invasion and the Russian-backed aggression in Ukraine is now approaching that of lives lost to the Ebola virus, but where does the West focus its attention and resources?

Russian President Vladimir Putin’s objective is to partition Ukraine, its resources, and its people into a new neo-Soviet enclave which he — not its people — will rule, with characteristic, Putin-esque brutality and repression. The forthcoming conquest of Mariupol and Russia’s land-route to Crimea — which Putin illegally ripped from Ukraine nearly a year ago, in brazen violation of the 1994 Budapest Memorandum and all precepts of international law — is Putin’s current objective. It’s an objective which he will easily accomplish, especially in the face of increasingly-shameful Western timidity to respond. So, what is to be done?

Here’s what the West could do, if it actually possessed the true strength and character of its principles . . .

First, Russia is out of the G-20. The G-20 is a group of industrialized nations, with modern political and economic systems that respect peace, respect borders, and work for international comity and security, as well as financial stability. Russia is neither an economic nor political leader; it doesn’t respect either peace or borders, and it harbors no interest in international peace and security. How many Russian forces are engaged against the forces of Islamist extremism, for example? Much of the rest of the G-20 is aggressively engaged to save innocent populations from the brutal devastation of ISIS and other radical Islamist movements, while Russia sits-by, happily on the sidelines, watching as others take-up the fight and suffer the losses against an alarmingly brutal and growing Islamist threat. Under Putin’s dictatorship, Russia is, instead, focusing its efforts on silencing dissension and civil liberties at home, occupying Ukraine and Georgia, serially breaking promises, and fast-becoming a pariah state and its own economic basket-case, as a result. In short, Russia possesses none of the attributes required for membership in the G-20. Russia should be out of the G-20.

Second, the Western powers — the United States, Great Britain, France, Germany, and all European Union Member States — must ally themselves firmly with Ukraine, providing Ukraine with both meaningful financial and military relief. The United Kingdom has recently provided an entree to this effort through its own initiative. Others should follow. While Putin may not particularly care, nor suddenly be moved to pursue the path of peace, if hundreds more Russian soldiers and their Donbas mafia colleagues lose their lives in the furtherance of his Ukrainian gambit, it is nonetheless vital for Ukraine to at least be able to defend itself. Robust Western aid to Ukraine — in all forms — is essential to this effort. Lives are in the balance. Lives that believe in freedom, democracy, pluralism, and the dignity of humankind. In defense if these values, Ukraine’s poorly-equipped soldiers are dying on the uneven fields of battle with their badly-outdated arms against trained Russian soldiers and an overwhelming modern Russian military power. They fight valiantly, yet they are tragically over-matched against Putin’s army. It’s past time for the United States and other Western powers to supply Ukraine with the best that we can give to them in their efforts to defend their Ukrainian homeland, Ukrainian civilians, peace, and the rule of law. In fact, it’s well past time.

Third, the United States, all European nations, and Ukraine should now be shouting at the tops of their voices at the United Nations Security Council, the United Nations General Assembly, and the international media with their ample proof that Russia has invaded Ukraine and killed its people — including civilians — in an illegal land-grab that violates numerous provisions of the United Nations’ charter. The skilled Russian propaganda machine is kicking the United States and the European Union across-the-floor, quite successfully painting the West as the instigators of a conflict in Ukraine that Russia is now obliged — as a good neighbor — to pacify. It’s all pure manure, of course, but the West is losing the information war — and badly. It’s time for the West to step-up its game when it comes to the truth and the evidence.

Finally, as CNN correspondent Fareed Zakaria has noted, the United States and the European Union could consider removing Russia from the international banking system until Russia can finally learn to honor the agreements which it has signed, and abide by the norms of international law in the 21st century. Without the further loss of a single life on the tragic fields of combat, the West can demonstrate to Russia the importance of actually respecting nations, neighbors, laws, and borders. It can do all of this by taking Russia out of the international banking mechanisms governed by the Society for Worldwide Inter-bank Financial Telecommunication (SWIFT). This would put Russia on an international financial footing similar to, say, North Korea, and stem Russia’s economic ability to support its continuing invasion of Ukraine. It might even drive Russia into further economic strife. Why would the West do this, however? Especially when Russian Prime Minister Medvedev has stated that such an act would be met with unlimited consequences?

We would do this because, for one, Putin and his gangsters in Ukraine mercilessly killed 298 innocent passengers aboard MH-17 — a crime against humanity for which they have never been and never will be called to account, largely owing to the fact that the West lacks the fortitude even to demand an answer, although Putin’s many victims included children. Putin and his henchmen ruthlessly blew an unarmed civilian aircraft out of the sky . . . and we’ve all just stood by, wringing our hands. How nice for us. How awful for those who suffered from this terrible injustice. Will we, in fact, never respond to this mass-murder of innocents?

We would also do this because it’s clear that the loss of Russian soldiers illegally present in Ukraine — killing Ukrainian civilians and soldiers — is of minor consequence to Putin. He simply doesn’t care if Russian soldiers perish in the pursuit of his ill-conceived frolic. His ability to pay-off his boyars in the Russian oligarchy, however, is of some consequence to him. Putin has fleeced billions of dollars off of the backs of the people who blindly “elected” him. It would be nice if the world’s press finally took notice of this fact, but in the meantime, Russia’s exclusion from SWIFT and the ensuing complication of the means to pay-off his boyars might just be enough to end the conflict in Ukraine, and even to restore peace in Europe. All without firing a shot. We all hope for this, but it will require the kind of leadership from the United States and the European Union — the self-proclaimed guardians of freedom — that we’ve yet to see. We’re all eager to see such leadership. The people of Ukraine who yet believe in Western values are dying to see it, as well. Literally.

Canada quietly tiptoes into Ukraine-Russia war

As debate over Canada’s role in the latest Iraq war rages, Ottawa is quietly being drawn into a second, more dangerous, conflict.

That second war is in Ukraine. The U.S. and Britain are sending military advisers there to help Ukraine’s embattled central government fight Moscow-backed secessionists. Defence Minister Jason Kenney says Canada might do the same.

Kenney told both Global News and the CBC that any Canadian soldiers in Ukraine would stay far away from the fighting.

This, of course, is the same assurance that the government gave last fall when it dispatched 69 commandos to advise Kurdish troops in Iraq. As it turned out, those advisers did end up under fire on the front lines.

For Canada, there are two big differences between the war against Islamic State militants in Iraq and the war in Ukraine.

The first is that the Ukrainian conflict is more serious. It has reopened Cold War fissures between the world’s preeminent nuclear powers.

Both the United States and Russia say they don’t want to go to war against one another over Ukraine. But events are pushing both in that direction.
Washington has gradually ramped up its non-lethal military aid to Ukraine. The Ukrainians also want weapons and U.S. President Barack Obama says he may oblige.

Obama has already agreed to send a battalion of soldiers next month to western Ukraine to train government forces. On Tuesday, British Prime Minister David Cameron said he’d send up to 75 military advisers.

Last fall, roughly 1,300 NATO troops carried out a joint exercise with the Ukrainian army in the country’s west.

Russian President Vladimir Putin, meanwhile, continues to provide military aid — and troops — to rebels in eastern Ukraine, even as he insists he is not.
The possibility of a collision between Russian and Western forces cannot be ruled out.

The second big difference is that, so far at least, all three major Canadian political parties have taken the same position on Ukraine.

The Liberals and New Democrats oppose Prime Minister Stephen Harper’s decision to join the war against the Islamic State. NDP Leader Tom Mulcair has argued forcefully that the current Iraq war is not Canada’s battle.

But neither Mulcair nor any other opposition MP has said that about Ukraine. Indeed, the opposition’s only criticism to date is that the government hasn’t been tough enough in its dealings with Russia.

In the Commons, MPs compete with one another to see who can be most pro-Kyiv.

In part, this is standard political pandering. Ukrainian-Canadians constitute a significant and vocal voting bloc.

But in part, the Ukrainian crisis seems to fit a familiar template. In an uncertain world, it is almost reassuring to be transported back to a Cold War time when Russia was bad, we were good and our job was to stand up to bullies.

In fact, there is nothing simple about this.
Ukraine has a long proud history as a nation but only a short one as a modern independent state.

In the 17th and 18th centuries, it was divided among Poland, Russia and Austro-Hungary. Following the Hitler-Stalin pact of 1939, it was reassembled and absorbed completely into the Soviet Union.

During the 1930s, it suffered under Soviet rule. During World War II, it suffered under German occupation. Since becoming independent in 1991, it has had more than its share of corrupt politicians.

But Ukraine’s real curse is geography. Save for a brief period in the 1990s, Moscow has never been willing to abandon its influence over eastern Ukraine, an area it sees as strategically crucial to Russia’s very existence.

It is within this history that Putin’s actions must be understood. He may be a thug. He is almost certainly a gangster. But in his hard-nosed approach to Ukraine, he is classically Russian.

Economic sanctions have weakened neither him nor his popularity. Western leaders, including Obama, understand the danger of escalating this conflict by sending weapons and military advisers into Ukraine. But they don’t seem to know what else to do. They are hoping that this time Putin will blink.
What if he doesn’t? Does the U.S. know how far it is willing to go? Does Canada?

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