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Globe and Mail | 23Apr2015 | Lysiane Gagnon

Our risky game in Ukraine

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?  [No national interest in Ukraine? For several years Canada has been exploring the possibility of a free trade agreement with Ukraine. Should this materialize, it would be of huge economic benefit for both sides. Ukraine is strategically located between the European Union and the Russian Federation.]

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?  [The actions of Mr. Baird and other Canadian diplomats/politicians in Kyiv were perfectly legitimate. That is part of their job in Ukraine and around the world.]

Then, at the November 2014 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. [High-school bully? Mr. Harper very courageously expressed the sentiments of the participants in the G20 meeting -- including Ms. Merkel.]

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). [Canada has very wisely sent in their military advisors so as to better understand the explosive situation in Ukraine and prepare the West for a possible major Russian invasion of Ukraine, followed by the Baltic countries and the rest of Europe.]

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.”  [Would Canadians be justified to tell Ms. Gagnon "to get out of Canada, go to Moscow"?]

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. [Most of the so-called neo-nazis from Ukraine, Russia and Europe are fighting in the ranks of the Kremlin-backed terrorists in the Donbas.]

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? [It is precisely because of the failure of people like Ms. Gagnon to empathize with the millions of Canadians whose ancestors suffered from communist rule that this memorial is required.]

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. [On the contrary. Mr. Harper is showing world leadership.]

[W.Z.  Studying the COMMENTS section is enlightening. The very first comments were all very Ukrainophobic and Putin trolls (I surmise), followed by anti-Harper sentiments. Only later do we get pro-Ukrainian comments and rebuttals. Below, we reproduce a Letter to the Editor sent in by Oksana Bashuk Hepburn for publication in the Toronto Globe and Mail.]

April 24, 2013
Letters to the Editor,
Dear Editor,
Our risky game in Ukraine, LYSIANE GAGNON in your fine paper, Apr. 23 2015, prompts three comments.
First: What are we doing in Ukraine?  Canada is taking a stand against a terrorist Russian president who is waging war on sovereign Ukraine to establish Russkyj Mir, a Russia world.  According to Putin, this calls for a defence of Russian-speakers in Canada with a eye on our Arctic.  This “new world order” has no global appeal as Russia is not a great power he claims it is.  Under Czarist or Communist rulers it contributed little to the well being of its own or forcefully occupied peoples. 
Second:  Canada’s national interest is served by assisting a nascent democracy on the border of a huge mass of Russia’s repressive autocracy and criminality.  Besides, Ukrainians turned Canada’s prairies into an agricultural powerhouse.  Presently, a Quebec agro firm has a whopping $150 million foreign aid project in Ukraine. And, every seventh Canadian has someone of Ukrainian descent in his/her life.  To suggest “no national interest” in Ukraine is an insult and exclussion just as denying Canada a relationship with the Francophonie would be.
Third: The Nazi term is a toxic bomb lobbed by Putin’s entourage to raise the hairs of Westerners who know lots about Germany’s evil and practically nothing about Russia’s. Putin’s aim: to detract from the current heinous crimes in Ukraine and, equally important, his threats to global security.  The Nazi canard has been dealt with months ago by international governments and institutions.  Shame, the message has not reached Ms. Gagnon or the Globe which persists on finding contributors with incorrect but populist views stuck in WWII rather than advance more the work of those who provide insights on how to deal with today’s Hitler. 
Warmest regards,
Oksana Bashuk Hepburn
Ottawa, ON