Canada-Russia relations, ignited by the crisis in Ukraine, have become increasingly strained. Prime Minister Stephen Harper and the Government of Canada, backed by the Parliament (opposition parties included), adopted the most principled position within G7 countries on the issue, and have been pushing our Western allies to force Vladimir Putin to back off Ukraine.
As of late, however, I cannot help but notice some attempts to challenge this position from within Canada. The criticism is predominantly based on two ideas:
a) isolationism, suggesting Canada should not ‘stick its nose’ into European affairs; and
b) realpolitik, proposing avoiding antagonism with Putin, instead exploring benefits that could potentially be gained from our ‘business as usual’ dealings with Russia.
The question is, therefore, should Canada continue standing up to Putin’s regime?
One hundred years ago, Canada joined the WWI fight, raising an Expeditionary Force of over 600,000 (from the population of around 8 million) and, subsequently, suffering astonishing 39% casualties of those deployed.
During WWII, more than 1.1 million Canadians served in the Armed Forces, and of those more than 45,000 lost their lives and another 54,000 were wounded.
Why had Canada voluntarily joined those wars so far away from its borders when its interests were not threatened directly? Why had Canadian volunteers fought and died overseas? The answer is surprisingly simple – because that was the right thing to do.
Two decades later, Lester B. Pearson introduced a groundbreaking concept of peacekeeping, which overtime evolved into Canada’s leadership role as the ‘world’s peacekeeper’. Why? Once again – it was the right thing to do.
Having participated in Operation ‘Apollo’ and Operation ‘Athena’ (our recent military engagements in Afghanistan and Southwest Asia), my personal feeling is that our involvement with those missions (not only the military aspect, but also our related diplomatic, economic and humanitarian efforts) certainly was the right thing to do.
And so I believe that Canada’s support of the people of Ukraine in their struggle against Putin’s aggression and their desire to build a democracy based on the very same values we, Canadians, cherish so much, is certainly the right, the Canadian, thing to do.
As for hardcore isolationists and lovers of realpolitik, who are, likely, unconvinced by my above altruistic arguments, I submit the following.
First of all, the global village we live in has little room for isolationism; the destabilization of Europe would send ripple effects globally, negatively impacting Canada in every way. The recent MH17 tragedy is a clear indication that Russia sponsored terrorism is not Ukraine’s problem alone.
Secondly, Russia’s violation of and the West’s inaction on executing the 1994 Budapest Memorandum (where, in exchange for the abolishment of the world’s third largest arsenal of nuclear weapons, Ukraine was guaranteed the sovereignty and integrity of its territory) would send a clear message to Iran, North Korea and other present and future rogue states that obtaining and holding on to weapons of mass destruction is the only way to protect oneself, while any international guarantees “are not worth the paper they are written on’ – a dangerous geopolitical precedent indeed.
Finally, for those who have not been paying attention, Putin had already begun challenging Canada long before the Ukraine crisis: from Russia Today (RT) television’s Cold War era-style propaganda freely broadcast nationwide; to Russian spy agencies actively recruiting Canadians and brazenly stealing our national secrets; to the Russian Air Force’s Tu-95 heavy bombers aggressively testing our strategic northern borders, and thus de-facto threatening the sovereignty of Canada and access to our northern riches.
The time is right for Canada to stay the course of playing the leadership role in challenging Putin’s regime, thus standing up for European and global peace and stability, and for our Canadian values and interests.
Moreover, expanding our political and economic efforts in support of Ukraine and further encouraging the international community to stand united in confronting Putin today may just prevent Canada from having to send its brave men and women into harm’s way tomorrow.