Harper: Putin has to be opposed very strongly

In and interview with CP24’s Stephen Ledrew in Toronto, Canadian Prime Minister Stephen Harper reiterated his and Canada’s position towards Ukraine and Russian President Vladimir Putin.

“I think not just to me but to the world, Mr. Putin has defied a pretty obvious principle and that is we do not redraw boundaries by military force. We have not been doing that since the Second World War — anywhere — so this is a very important principle he’s violated.”

I had reached conclusions about the nature of this man and the kind of place he was leading his country and ultimately leading the world

“I think I would tell you that, quite frankly, having grown up with many Ukrainian friends, understanding that experience probably alerts me even more to it. But also just the fact that I’ve dealt with Mr. Putin for a number of years and I don’t think it was any secret to other G7 leaders, or to this country, that I had reached conclusions about the nature of this man and the kind of place he was leading his country and ultimately leading the world, and I think he has to be opposed very strongly.”

When asked about his widely publicized encounter with Putin during the G20 Summit in Australia, Harper doubled down on his actions:

“I guess I don’t know what else I would have said to him. He and I, I guess we’re not the closest of friends, and he came over, we were in an awkward position where we had to shake hands and I have only one thing to say to him, and that is: get out of Ukraine. And frankly as long as he continues to violate Ukraine’s territorial integrity I don’t have a lot else to say to the man.”

 

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

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.”

Hungary helping Moscow destabilize Ukraine from the west

Budapest has announced that it has handed out Hungarian citizenship papers to 94,000 people in Transcarpathia (Zakarpattia province) in Western Ukraine in expedited fashion, an action that creates yet another challenge for Kyiv and may very well have been coordinated with Moscow.

The Hungarian official responsible for nationality policy says that this is part of a broader effort to boost the size of the country’s population and points out that two-thirds of the more than 710,000 new Hungarians are from Transylvania in Romania and 17 percent are from the Voevodina in Serbia and only 14 percent are from Transcarpathia.

All three areas have been targeted by the Gabor Betlen Foundation which the Russian news agency Regnum reports, and all three are being destabilized by its actions as the Russian agency does not.

In a Ukrainian-language commentary today, however, Mikhail Pozhivanov, a former deputy in the Verhovna Rada and a former Ukrainian deputy economics minister says exactly that, adding that while “Transcarpathia is not the Donbas,” it is a place where Moscow with Budapest’s help hopes to destabilize the situation.

Hungary has been fishing in these troubled waters for some time, he writes, pointing to Hungarian support for the Transcarpathian Rusyns and the fact that one of that group’s leaders, who operated under the cover of a Russian Orthodox priest, was accused of promoting separatism by the Yanukovich regime and subsequently found guilty of that.

Over the past year, Moscow commentators have suggested that Hungary should take the lead in offering citizenship to ethnic Hungarians in Ukraine and even recognizing some kind of Transcarpathian “republic” there, possibly on the model of the LNR and DNR statelets Moscow has set up in eastern Ukraine.

Budapest has not been slow to respond to that idea, but its role in the Transcarpathia has expanded dramatically since the election of Viktor Orban as prime minister and the visit of Vladimir Putin to the Hungarian capital, during which the Russian president stressed the common ties and interests of Moscow and Budapest in Ukraine, according to Pozhivanov.

Budapest recognized the Russian Anschluss of Crimea, and it has been an active opponent of EU sanctions against Russia for its intervention in Ukraine. But the most dangerous thing it has done may be its stirring up of the Hungarian minority in the western part of Ukraine, something that forces Kyiv to divide its attention, the Ukrainian commentator says.

To argue that Hungary will succeed in creating a serious territorial challenge to Ukraine “would be an exaggeration,” Pozhivanov says.But to ignore the problem would also be a mistake, especially given Hungary’s actions and the all too obvious ways in which Budapest is coordinating them with Moscow.


Editor’s pick: For further historical perspective an analysis on the Hungarian-Transcarpathian issue, Professor Paul Robert Magocsi, an expert on Rusyn-Ruthenian affairs offers this short lecture:

Putin’s Strategy: Involve West in undermining Ukraine so Ukrainians will despise it too

Vladimir Putin’s Anschluss of Crimea and continuing aggression against Ukraine means that Ukrainians will never again accept ethnic Russians as “a fraternal people” or be prepared to defer to Moscow unless they are compelled to by forces beyond the capacity of today’s Russia to field. Instead, they will continue to pursue their European choice.

That puts Putin in a difficult position, but he appears to have found a way out, one whose implications some leaders in the West have ignored or may not even understand. By involving them in talks about undermining the integrity of Ukraine, Putin is laying the groundwork for Ukrainian hostility to Europe as well.

Such antagonism to Europe will not mean that Ukrainians will want to turn to Russia instead, at least not anytime soon. But any such hostility will mean that Ukraine will remain caught between Moscow and the West, not taken in by either and thus ever weaker, more divided, and more subject to manipulation by various means overt and covert from Moscow.

That Western leaders like German Chancellor Angela Merkel and French President Hollande should have fallen for this trap laid by Putin is appalling not only in terms of its immediate impact but even more because of its long-term consequences, but that the Kremlin leader should set it makes perfect sense from his point of view.

Those conclusions are suggested by Moskovsky komsomolets which notes that not Russia alone, but it together with France and Germany are now involved with Kyiv in the beginning of “the decentralization of Ukraine,” something the Moscow outlet clearly celebrates.

The paper reports that the three countries, along with Ukraine, have “discussed the beginning of the work of a special group in Minsk which will be concerned with the preparation of local elections in special regions of the Donbas,” thus giving to Putin yet another victory over Ukraine through the involvement of Western pressure.

It notes happily that yesterday “it became known that Poroshenko had signed a decree about the creation of a Constitutional Commission which is needed for “the development of agreed upon proposals for the perfecting of the Constitution of Ukraine taking into account contemporary challenges and requirements of society.”

And it concludes with the words of Mikhail Pogrebinsky, head of the Kyiv Center for Political Research and Conflict Studies, that Poroshenko is moving in this direction because “foreign players including the European Union want this,” again a source of influence Putin may be glad to get but that the EU should not be giving to an aggressor.

Wounded Russian soldier confesses to invasion, criticizes ‘rebels’

A horrifyingly wounded Russian soldier’s interview with Novaya Gazeta is showing an even more in depth look at the role and coordination of Russian soldiers as their units continue the undeclared invasion of eastern Ukraine. The subject, Dhorzhi Batomunkuev (who has already been tracked down on social media), is an ethnic Buryat tank operator from Russia’s far east who recalls his injury, secretive deployment, issues with the so-called rebels his units backed, and why he was fighting in Russia’s ghost army against Ukraine.

The real rebels

In the interview, Batomunkuev describes a Donetsk People’s Republic (DNR) special forces company he performed in that is, unsurprisingly, comprised of 90% Russians. Typically these special forces will act as shock troops and after completing their actions, fall back to be replaced by rebel neo-cossacks – units we note to be far less reliable but much more expendable. He also laments that the irregular ‘rebel’ militia Russia’s forces prop up are even far less dependable and less apt to following orders.

“When you have to finish off the enemy, the militia just won’t go. They say “we won’t go there, it’s dangerous.” We’ve got orders to advance further, and even if we wanted, we couldn’t order them […] The militia never tells us where they go.”

When asked if and how Russian units coordinate with the DNR’s militias, he simply describes them as “weird” and erratic:

They shoot and shoot – and then they stop. Like their business hours are over. Completely disorganized. No leaders, no battle commanders, it’s a free for all.

The enemy

I’m not proud of what I did. That I destroyed, killed people. You can’t be proud of that. But then, it comforts me when I think this is all for peace.

Batomunkuev’s understanding of the war, who he is fighting against, and why he is there is both interesting and atypical of the Russian perspective. They believe they are killing for peace, but against whom or why is less coherent. Batomunkuev justifies his actions saying that Ukrainians ‘kill the innocent and children’:

You understand he’s an enemy. He killed the innocent, the civilians…they killed children. This bastard sits there, shaking, praying that we don’t kill him. Starts begging for forgiveness. May god judge you, I think.

His perception that Ukrainians kill civilians is then contradicted by his own account of his unit’s occupation of Makiyivka, where he admits he was told up to 70% of the city’s 365,000 population were against Russia and supported Ukraine. He justifies his actions in a twist of logic: “70% of a village isn’t important. You have to respect the people’s choice. If Donetsk wants independence, you gotta give it.”

Throughout the interview he refers to Ukrainians with the pejorative slur Ukrops – a rough equivalent of calling French people “frogs.”

Batomunkuev’s twists become more elaborate when he talks of fighting Polish mercenaries who “can’t live without war” and “must be destroyed,” but culminate with this final quote about the United Nations’ military plot against Russia:

If Ukraine joins the European Union, the United Nations, then the UN may deploy their rockets here, their weapons, they could do it. And then they will be pointed at us. They will be a lot closer to us, not beyond the oceans. Right at our land border. […] But if they take Donbas and deploy the rockets, then they can reach Russia

For analysis and interpretation of the interview, be sure to read Meduza and The Interpreter.