Russian atrocities against Ukrainians are increasingly coming to light. Canada could and should be doing more to stop Russia, both independently and in coalition with other countries.
More than a month into Russia’s unprovoked military aggression against Ukraine, I was invited to appear before Canada’s Standing Senate Committee on Foreign Affairs and International Development as an expert witness and to provide ideas that could bring about peace and security.
In my remarks, I explained that Ukrainians are doing a heroic job defending themselves, their values and their democracy. But they need more help in their David and Goliath struggle; they cannot win this war alone.
It’s comparable to the United States attacking Canada — no matter how brave, well-equipped and powerful Canadian soldiers are, there is no way they could withstand a long-term assault from a superior military force.
Canada and Ukraine have a special relationship, forged over 30 years. Canada was the first western country to recognize Ukraine’s independence in 1991; Poland was the only country ahead of Canada to do so.
In 1991, I was a journalist in Ukraine and in the room when Canada’s chargé d'affaires in Kyiv, Nestor Gayowsky, read the telegram announcing that Canada recognized Ukraine’s referendum results and welcomed it as an independent country. I felt so proud in that moment as a Canadian Ukrainian, and I would like to feel that pride again.
Canada has an important role to play now, and it’s time for new ideas. The international institutional infrastructure created at the end of the Second World War is clearly unable to stop war and atrocities. Lester B. Pearson, who later became Canadian prime minister, came up with the idea of peacekeeping forces and resolved the Suez Crisis. The war in Ukraine represents another moment in history when Canadians can propose innovative solutions.
When asked by media how Canada is doing, I echo Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky, who recently thanked Canadian parliamentarians for all the ways they’ve shown support for Ukraine, but said that Ukrainians needed more help.
His actual words to Canada’s Parliament and Prime Minister Justin Trudeau on March 14 were:
“I know that you all support Ukraine. Justin, but also, I would like you to understand, and I would like you to feel this — what we feel every day. Can you imagine when you call your friends, your friendly nation, and you ask: ‘Please close the sky, close the airspace, please stop the bombing. How many more cruise missiles have to fall on our cities until you make this happen?’ And they, in return, they express their deep concerns about the situation.”
There are five areas where Canada could be doing more: diplomacy, military, economics, humanitarian and information issues.
Diplomatically, Canada has made strong statements in support of Ukraine and critical of Russia. But it could take a more active role in the peace talks, an area where Canada has a lot to bring to the table.
A high-level visit to Ukraine would send a strong signal of support. Numerous leaders have already visited Kyiv, including British Prime Minister Boris Johnson, Poland’s Prime Minister Mateusz Morawiecki and European Parliament President Roberta Metsola. The furthest Canadian leaders have gone is Poland.
Canada could also scale down its diplomatic relations with Russia, something
The Russian Embassy in Canada needs to remain open to keep diplomatic channels accessible — but the size of Russia’s diplomatic mission does not need to be the same as it is during peacetime.
In the military sphere, Canada had been supporting Ukraine via training and arms supplies even before the war. But as Zelensky has said repeatedly, Ukrainians need more help.
When he addressed the EU and the G7 summits, he told NATO: “Please give us one per cent of what you have; that would really help us.”
There are constraints facing Canada and NATO, but also room for creative thinking — both in covert actions and supplying Ukraine with funds it can use to purchase weapons on the open market, as suggested by retired Gen. Rick Hillier.
Economics, humanitarian efforts
Economic sanctions against Russia have been unprecedented, yet they need to be strengthened, with a focus on the energy and financial sectors.
The best chance to stop Putin is via his inner circle — if they are excluded from the international economy, they will lose interest in acquiescing to their president.
European countries are working on reducing their energy dependency on Russia. Canada is in a position to help by increasing oil production in the short term and working on renewable energy for the long term.
In the humanitarian sector, Canada has opened its doors to Ukrainians fleeing the war, including in an area that I’m working on — assisting scholars.
But the process needs to be streamlined, and health care must be provided to those arriving.
Finally, the information front is key given Russia’s powerful disinformation machine.
Constant vigilance against the spread of Russian disinformation on social media is key, but simple language is also important. Ukrainian media professionals are appealing to Canadian and world leaders to use the correct terminology — for example, not “the Ukraine crisis” but “Russia’s war against Ukraine.”
There’s been some improvement in this — fewer people are now saying “the Ukraine” (a Soviet practice) and correctly saying Ukraine — but once again, more can be done to ensure language and news coverage doesn’t minimize Ukrainians or the unprovoked military invasion of their country.
It’s time to set up a task force bringing together the best brains in Canada to come up with new ideas of how to end this war — and future wars.
Canada has played the role of a global peace advocate before and it can again. Rarely has the world needed it more than right now.
This article is based on remarks delivered to Canada’s Standing Senate Committee on Foreign Affairs and International Development on March 31.
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