Contributed to The Globe and Mail
Paul Grod is the president of the Ukrainian Canadian Congress and the vice-president of the Ukrainian World Congress
As thousands of Russian troops with tanks, missiles and heavy artillery are directly engaged in what is clearly an invasion of Ukraine, the international community needs to respond with a robust hard-hitting rebuke to Russian President Vladimir Putin. Not having implemented the most difficult sanctions against Russia and provided the arms necessary for the Ukrainians to defend themselves has only emboldened the Kremlin. At the NATO Summit in Wales on Thursday and Friday, Canada and its allies must commit to provide Ukraine with the type of defensive weapons and sanctions that will impose a significant cost upon Russia for its aggression.
As stated in Kiev on Aug. 30 by Senator Bob Menendez, chairman of the U.S. Senate Foreign Relations Committee, “there are those in Europe and elsewhere who say, we don’t want to provoke Putin. Well, Putin doesn’t need provocation. In this case weakness is a greater provocation for Putin to act than strength.”
Shortly after winning its independence, and in exchange for security guarantees by Russia, the U.S. and the U.K., Ukraine gave up its nuclear arsenal and drastically reduced the size of its army. Today, Russia has become the aggressor and it is critical for Canada, the U.S., European Union and NATO, to equip and train the Ukrainians with defensive weaponry to give them a fighting chance to protect themselves.
Since the fall of the Soviet Union, the Kremlin has promoted instability in neighbouring countries as a means of influencing their domestic and foreign policies. This was true in Georgia (Ajaria in addition to Abkhazia and South Ossetia), Moldova (Transnistria), Azerbaijan (Nagorno-Karabakh) and Ukraine (Crimea). This policy predated NATO expansion to the East, which undercuts the arguments of those who explain such Kremlin actions are a response to the inclusion of former Warsaw Pact nations in NATO. As an alliance of democratic states, it needs to be stressed that new NATO member states joined of their own free will and that part of their motivation was a fear of precisely the Russian imperialism we are seeing today.
Moscow’s aggression in Ukraine can only be stopped with a strong and unwavering response from NATO and the G7 countries that make it prohibitive for Russia to continue. This includes: decisive sectoral economic sanctions – particularly against the financial, defense and energy sectors; political isolation of Mr. Putin; and military support to Ukraine.
Canada has been a principled supporter of Ukraine and its people. It was thanks to Prime Minister Stephen Harper’s leadership on the world stage that Russia was expelled from the G8. As Ukraine’s closest ally today, Mr. Harper can play a pivotal role to convince the NATO countries to make the policy decision to assist Ukraine to build up its armed forces. Allowing the Kremlin to have its way with Ukraine will only encourage it to seek similar gains elsewhere.
Ukraine has recently rebuilt a committed, competent military force, and in a remarkably short period of time has created the nucleus of new army that has the will and morale to fight but lacks the necessary military hardware to do so effectively. In view of everything that has transpired since Russia’s invasion of Crimea, it is crucial that, in addition to the creation of a NATO rapid-reaction force, Canada and its partners now provide direct defensive military assistance to Ukraine so that it can protect itself from continuing Russian aggression.
If there is not a heavy price for Russia to pay for its invasion of Ukraine, then what do we say to China in the South China Sea? What do we say to Iran as it seeks to pursue nuclear weapons? What do we say to North Korea and the Korean peninsula? We must act quickly and decisively to turn back Mr. Putin’s assault on Ukraine and global security.