In Background, Ukraine

By Lysiane Gagnon, Special to The Globe and Mail, April 23, 2015

There are more than 230 informed comments by Globe and Mail readers which accompany Lysiane Gagnon’s column. Go to the weblink to find them.

A longer version of this column by Lysiane Gagnon was published in the French-language Montreal daily La Presse on April 19. That was translated and published on New Cold here.  La Presse is the largest French language daily newspaper in North America.

Prime Minister Stephen Harper’s enthusiasm for the Ukrainian cause knows no bounds. This summer, Canada will send 200 soldiers to Ukraine to train its military forces after having sent an aid package of $570-million to the Ukrainian government, which is fighting Russian-backed rebel forces in the eastern part of the country. What exactly is Canada doing there, in a conflict that’s going on in the depths of Europe where Canada has no national interest?

The Canadian involvement started with a distinctly undiplomatic move by former foreign minister John Baird. In December, 2013, Mr. Baird paraded on Kiev’s central Maidan square alongside demonstrators hostile to the government then-headed by Russian-influenced president Viktor Yanukovych. Mr. Baird received a hero’s welcome from the crowd. When did Canadian officials start taking sides in the domestic politics of other countries?

Then, at the November G20 meeting in Brisbane, Australia, the Prime Minister, like some high-school bully, reportedly told Russian President Vladimir Putin, to “get out of Ukraine.” Considering the potentially explosive nature of the Ukrainian conflict, most European leaders, especially German Chancellor Angela Merkel, have wisely shown restraint toward Russia. Mr. Harper, on the other hand, seems heartily on the same wavelength as U.S. Republican politicians who want their country to settle scores with Russia as if the Cold War were still raging, and long for a muscle-armed response to Moscow, even though this conflict is far from a black-and-white issue.

The arrival of 200 Canadian military advisers, who will be stationed far away from the area of conflict, will not alter the Ukrainian quagmire (800 Americans and 75 British advisers will also be involved), but will be seen by Moscow as just one more provocation – particularly after NATO’s deployment in the Baltic Republics and the West’s current meddling in territory that’s been part of Russia’s orbit for centuries (even after Crimea was ceded to Ukraine in 1954, Russia kept its naval bases in the peninsula, and the eastern part of Ukraine has always felt closer to Russia than to the western part of the country).

Moscow has a great deal at stake there while Canada has absolutely none; the truth is that Mr. Putin would be perfectly justified to tell Mr. Harper “to get out of Ukraine.”

Worse, as former Canadian diplomat James Bissett recently told reporters, the Canadian advisers might be inadvertently training neo-nazi militants, since the regular Ukrainian army has integrated some extreme-right militias.

What are Mr. Harper’s motivations? Obviously, he’s determined to please the voters whose ancestors suffered under Soviet rule, most notably the powerful Ukrainian-Canadian lobby that holds the key to several Western rural ridings. The same electoral considerations probably inspired Mr. Harper’s strange decision to build a huge memorial dedicated to the victims of communism in the centre of Ottawa. There’s no question communism was an abject and murderous failure everywhere it has been tried, but why a monument to its victims, here and now, when communism – a scourge that never took hold in Canada – has been dead for 30 years?

Electoral considerations are normal in politics. But it should be limited to domestic issues. By interfering in the Ukrainian conflict, Mr. Harper is playing a dangerous game.

More than 230 comments on the above article are posted to the Globe and Mail, here.


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