By SCOTT TAYLOR*
As the political drama continues to unfold around the crisis in Ukraine, Canada remains among the most strident voices stirring up the tension.
Wiser heads would argue that without any skin in the game, Canadian politicians can beat their war drums with wild abandon, knowing there will be little in the way of domestic consequences regardless of what develops.
For western European countries, the situation is an entirely different kettle of fish. At present, the European Union relies on Russian imports for approximately 40 per cent of current demand. Any full-scale embargo against Russia would trigger a retaliatory stoppage of oil and natural gas exports that would immediately cripple the manufacturing sector in Germany and France.
While there is no doubt that such actions would bite deeply into the profit margin of Russia’s Gazprom oil and gas company, I believe the impact of lengthy queues at gas pumps and stalled economies across Europe would generate more political fallout in the short term.
Then, of course, there is the question of this crisis developing into an actual shooting war between Russia and the NATO alliance. God forbid that this ever comes to pass, but it is easier to see why those living on the potential battlefield seem far more eager to find a peaceful solution than Canada’s Prime Minister Stephen Harper and Foreign Affairs Minister John Baird.
Harper and Baird have made it quite clear that they fully support the interim Ukrainian government in Kyiv, and they have both likened Vladimir Putin’s annexation of Crimea to that of Adolf Hitler’s invasion of Czechoslovakia in 1938.
On March 6, Harper and Baird also took the bizarre measure of expelling nine Russian military officers (who were in Canada on language training) with just 24 hours notice.
Closer to my home, literally, on April 7, Harper and Baird declared Lt.- Col. Yury Bezler, assistant military attache at the Russian Embassy, to be persona non grata. Bezler was not given an explanation for his expulsion, but he was given two weeks to pack up his young family and leave the country.
In the interest of full disclosure, just 36 hours before he was expelled, Bezler and his lovely wife Valentina were dinner guests at my home. At a subsequent farewell party on the eve of his departure, Bezler showed a wisdom beyond his 35 years of age when he stated, “A time of crisis is when dialogue is imperative; it is not a time to be cutting ties.”
Last week, it was Jason Kenney, Canada’s immigration minister, who decided to throw his weight into the fray and join Harper and Baird in their bear-baiting of Russia. In announcing that Canada will send 500 observers to monitor next month’s residential elections in Ukraine, tough guy Kenney said, “I hope that Moscow notices.”
The message Kenney believes he is conveying is that Canada will stand behind “free and fair” elections in Ukraine and that will, of course, frighten the freedom-hating Kremlin.
Adding to the standard propaganda line that Canada is supporting freedom and democracy, Kenney stated: “The government in Moscow continues with the laughable notion that Viktor Yanukovych is the president of Ukraine.”
While it is true that Yanukovych was ousted following violent protests in Kyiv and a subsequent act of the Ukrainian parliament, he is in fact the last elected president.
Yanukovych defeated his rival, Yulia Tymoshenko, in 2010 following two rounds of voting that were monitored by international observers, including 66 Canadians. The advance polls had predicted a victory by Yanukovych despite a drop in popularity in his eastern Ukraine support base.
His eventual success was attributed to more people voting against Tymoshenko rather than voting for Yanukovych. In the five presidential elections held since Ukraine’s independence in 1991, the deep division within the country has seen voters vacillate between pro-western and pro-Russian leaders, always with narrow margins of victory.
Contrary to frightening Putin and the Kremlin with his legion of election observers, Kenney could be in for a shock come election day. Some 8.3 million Ukrainian citizens are not just pro-Russian, they are ethnic Russians, and many of those living in eastern and southern Ukraine see resource-rich Russia as a more solid solution for Ukraine’s collapsed economy than a precarious and reluctant European Union.
Baird declared early on in this crisis that Canada was not a referee but a player in this game. That may be so, but it is clear that Harper, Baird and Kenney don’t have a clue as to the rules of this game, let alone what is at stake.
*Editor of Esprit de Corps, columnist and author of several books on the Canadian military. This article appeared in the The Chronicle Herald, Halifax, NS