In Background, Feature Articles, Ukraine

By Scott Taylor, Winnipeg Free Press , Aug 31, 2015

According to the Harper government rhetoric, the crisis in Ukraine is a very simple, black-and-white equation: Russia bad, Ukraine good. This is, of course, good old political pandering to the sizable diaspora of Ukrainian-Canadian voters in advance of the federal election.

Ukrainian PM Arseniy Yatsenyuk in Ottawa on July 14, 2015 with Canadian PM Stephen Harper (Xinhua)

Ukrainian PM Arseniy Yatsenyuk in Ottawa on July 14, 2015 with Canadian PM Stephen Harper (Xinhua)

The reality of the much more complex Ukrainian conflict just keeps bubbling to the surface. It was reported recently that it cost Canada’s Department of National Defence $1.6-million to airlift $5-million worth of surplus, non-lethal military equipment to bolster the Ukrainian army. Part of that exorbitant shipping bill was due to the fact the Harper government wanted to get the maximum public relations benefit by deploying parliamentarians and film crews to record the delivery.

As for the calculation on the $5-million value of the gear shipped, this was based on the original purchase price of the now well-used tents, sleeping bags and body armour. The resale value of this same gear through Army Surplus stores in Canada would probably amount to less than $500,000.

More revealing of the conundrum faced by Canadian officials in supporting the ‘good guy’ Ukrainians was the fact that the decision was made to send actual equipment rather than money. The Ukrainian government is the most corrupt in Europe and it was believed that any cash donations would never make it to the security forces.

Children are receiving military instruction in today's ultra-nationalist Ukraine, including from extremist militias (AP photo)

Children are receiving military instruction in today’s ultra-nationalist Ukraine, including from extremist militias (AP photo)

This sentiment was echoed by the Ukrainian-Canadian volunteers who have been crowd-sourcing funds to purchase weapons and ammunition for the Ukrainian militia. Rather than turn it over to the ministry of defence, the Ukrainian Canadians drove the supplies straight to the front line to avoid the risk of it being sold on the black market.

Even manning the front lines around the pro-Russian separatist-held territory has become problematic for the Kyiv regime. While Conservative Leader Stephen Harper has been keen to bellow anti-Russian diatribes and appear bent on battling Russian aggression to the last drop of Ukrainian blood, it seems that young Ukrainian males are not so eager to die for the cause. It was reported recently that Ukraine’s sixth conscription draft this year brought in less than half of the expected 25,000 recruits. Draft-dodging and desertion plague the demoralized regular force Ukrainian military units.

In the past, the majority of the heavy combat operations against pro-Russian separatists were conducted by privately funded volunteer battalions such as the ‘Azov’ and ‘Donbass’. Unfortunately, it has become widely recognized that the ranks of the Azov and Donbass are rife with neo-Nazis. Although they are now officially integrated into the Ukrainian National Guard, the U.S. Congress has forbidden the provision of weapons or training to the Azov battalion because of its fascist elements.

As a result of faltering international support, Ukrainian President Petro Poroshenko had no alternative but to withdraw the controversial volunteer battalions from the front line. The problem with this is that domestically, the volunteer battalions have a far higher approval rating than Poroshenko’s corrupt regime. A recent poll revealed that 59 per cent of Ukrainians believe Poroshenko’s rule has had a negative impact on the country, while the volunteer battalions rank second in terms of trusted institution in Ukraine, just behind international NGOs.

On the flip side of these survey results is the January 2015 poll conducted on behalf of the Canada Fund for Local Initiatives. According to those findings, one year after Russia annexed Crimea, its residents endorsed the annexation with a 93 per cent approval rating. The reality of Russians being popular in Crimea and the Kyiv regime unpopular in Ukraine runs counter to the Harper narrative.

Contrary to Harper’s strident demands for tougher sanctions against Russia, the bankrupt Poroshenko regime has had to go hat in hand to beg those same nasty Russians for a huge discount on oil and gas imports. Ukraine is entirely dependent on Russian oil and gas, and Western Europe receives roughly 40 per cent of its fuel from Russian sources, through pipelines that transit Ukraine.

Without another generous bailout from the evil Russians, Ukraine and central Europe will face a long cold winter.

Scott Taylor, a former soldier, is an author and editor of Esprit de Corps magazine. The Winnipeg Free Press is the largest daily newspaper in the city. Winnipeg is home to tens of thousands of Canadians of Ukrainian descent.  The above article also appeared in the Chronicle Herald, Halifax, Nova Scotia. Scott Taylor writes a weekly column in the Chronicle Herald called ‘On Target’. Halifax is the home port of the Atlantic fleet of the Canadian navy.

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