In Digest, Ukraine

By Scott Taylor, published in his column ‘On Target’ in the Halifax Chronicle Herald, June 7, 2015

Prime Minister Stephen Harper’s recent visit to Ukraine* was yet another counterproductive and pointless gesture of unwavering Canadian support for the current government in Kyiv. No doubt Harper’s anti-Russian rhetoric would be welcome words to the ears of President Petro Poroshenko, as he tries to drown out the shouts of protest from his own disenfranchised citizenry.

Stephen Harper and Arseniy Yatsenyuk on June 6, 2015 (Canadian Press)

Stephen Harper and Arseniy Yatsenyuk on June 6, 2015 (Canadian Press)

That’s right, folks. Once again, mass demonstrations in the streets of Kyiv are calling for an end to government corruption. Despite the ousting of pro-Russian president Viktor Yanukovych in February 2014 and the subsequent instalment of pro-Western oligarch Poroshenko last June, Ukraine remains gripped by its crippling debt and widespread unemployment.

While the ceasefire in the breakaway eastern provinces has been violated on several occasions in recent days, the fear-mongering claim by Poroshenko that “the Russians are coming” has grown a little stale. It has been more than a year since Russia annexed Crimea following a referendum. Even a poll conducted by the Canadian government revealed that an overwhelming majority of Crimean residents are still happy with their chosen change of nationality.

Despite similar referendums in the eastern Ukraine breakaway republics of Donetsk and Luhansk, which also sought to become part of Russia, President Vladimir Putin declined the request. As a result, the two Ukrainian entities are in limbo and now refer to their joint territory as “New Russia.”

As much as Harper wants to dumb this whole equation down to “bad Russians versus good Ukrainians,” the reality is not so simple. Even worse, of course, is Harper’s constant beating of the war drum and goading of the belligerents into battle.

The truth is that most young males in western Ukraine do not want to fight and die for the Poroshenko regime. There is widespread draft-dodging of the latest round of conscription, and a staggering number of desertions from those already in uniform.

To date, the Kyiv government’s most aggressive security forces are the militias consisting of foreign volunteers and neo-Nazi elements such as the Right Sector. This, of course, brings us back to the basic premise of Harper declaring who we are against — in this case, Russia, and any Ukrainian who prefers a strong link with Russia — without fully analyzing who we are supporting.

Despite the fact that there are an estimated 1.2 million Ukrainian-Canadian voters who wish to see Canada take a lead role in this conflict, I think the remaining 34 million Canadians might feel a little uneasy supporting an oligarch propped up by private neo-Nazi militias.

A quick look in the rear view mirror and we see that in Afghanistan we labelled the Taliban evil and spent 12 years militarily propping up President Harmid Karzai. It mattered not that the Karzai regime was one of the most hated and corrupt on Earth, nor that we spent billions of dollars and untold hours equipping and training an Afghan security force in the hope that it could counter the Taliban on its own. It turned out that young Afghan males might have joined up for the relatively lucrative paycheque, but, in actual combat, few of them wanted to die for the corrupt politicians in Kabul.

Thus, it was decided to create a collection of private militias — some 30,000 fighters in total — known as the Afghan local police (ALP). Unfortunately for the Afghan people, the ALP is not motivated by altruistic values. While it is true that its members have borne the brunt of the fighting against the Taliban — suffering from three-to-six-times higher casualties than the regular Afghan security units — the problem has been that the ALP uses its guns and badges to prey upon the civilians they are paid to protect. The ALP has become so hated and feared by locals that during a recent Taliban offensive in the northern province of Kunduz, citizens openly assisted the Taliban by pinpointing the ALP positions.

Then, we have the case of Libya, where the Harper government declared Moammar Gadhafi to be evil, only to discover, after his ousting, that we had been fighting in support of an even worse collection of cutthroats and Islamic extremists. Ditto for the conflict in Syria, where Canada championed the anti-President Bashar al-Assad rebels only to discover later that they were in fact ISIS.

When is Harper going to learn the importance of assessing who we are fighting for and not just denouncing who we are fighting against?

Scott Taylor is a Canadian journalist specializing in military matters. He is the founding editor of the military-oriented magazine Esprit de Corps.

* Prime Minister Stephen Harper visited Kyiv, Ukraine on June 6 while en route to attend the G7 summit meeting in Germany on June 7 and 8.


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