Question everything, except Canadian foreign policy


Why would a progressive media outlet regurgitate what the Conservatives and dominant media are saying about Canada arming the Ukraine?

Recently The Tyee published “Canada’s Military Aid Hypocrisy: No weapons for vulnerable Ukraine. Plenty for the villainous Saudi regime.” The article echoed Conservative leader Erin O’Toole and many journalists call for Canada to give weapons to Ukrainian forces stoking tensions with Russia. The article’s progressive twist was to counterpose the Liberals supposed dovish position on Ukraine with their fueling of Saudi Arabia’s devastating war in Yemen.

The story’s framing of the tension between Russia and NATO is remarkably shallow and certainly in no way progressive. There’s nothing about the 2014 US/Canada-backed coup against President Viktor Yanukovych, who was oscillating between the European Union and Russia. It also ignores how Canadian troops have built up the Ukrainian military since 2015. Or that the Trudeau government recently announced an expansion of Operation UNIFIER and loosened restrictions on Canada’s military trainers supporting those fighting against separatists in the Eastern Ukraine’s Donbass region. It also failed to mention that the training is partly designed to pave the way for Ukraine’s possible accession to NATO and that Canadians troops have knowingly trained neo-Nazis.

“Canada’s Military Aid Hypocrisy” stays mum on the broader geopolitics driving the tension as well. There’s nothing about NATO expanding into Eastern Europe or the stationing of thousands of North American troops on Russia’s border. More than 500 Canadian troops are leading a seemingly indefinite NATO mission in Latvia while Canadian fighter jets are in Romania and a naval vessel was dispatched to the Black Sea, which borders Russia.

The US has nuclear weapons and tens of thousands of troops stationed across Europe. Led by the US, NATO countries spend $1.1 trillion on their militaries each year while Russia’s military budget is $61 billion. Portrayed as a defensive alliance, NATO has invaded or bombed Libya, Afghanistan and Yugoslavia over the past two decades. Having faced two horrible European invasions last century, Russian officials are understandably concerned about NATO troops stationed 150 kilometers from St. Petersburg, especially when US officials like former vice-president Dick Cheney talk about breaking up the Russian Federation.

In addition to omitting important context, the article revolves around a remarkably ignorant question: “It is worth asking why such an outsized portion of these lethal exports are somehow bound for the benefit of one of the most murderous regimes in the world, rather than a besieged strategic ally standing up to geopolitical forces fundamentally opposed to the principles of democracy.” Leaving aside the danger of nuclear Armageddon, the answer is remarkably simple: money. One government (Saudi Arabia) has money to spend while another (Ukraine) does not. General Dynamics Canada and other arms firms sell weapons – with assistance from the crown-owned Canadian Commercial Corporation – to the Saudi monarchy. The Liberals are being criticized for not giving lethal weapons to the Ukrainian military. (Saudi Arabia’s per capita income is US$ 20,110 while Ukraine’s is $3,727.)

In December 2017 the Liberals added Ukraine to Canada’s Automatic Firearms Country Control List, which allows companies to export weapons to that country with little restriction. In 2019, Winnipeg-based PGW Defence Technologies delivered $1 million worth of heavy caliber sniper rifles to the Ukrainian military. Through a memorandum of understanding Ottawa signed with Kyiv a Canadian company, supported by the Canadian Commercial Corporation, is helping build up Ukrainian ammunition production.

While they’ve been reluctant to offer more lethal weapons, the Liberals have in fact equipped the Ukrainian military. They’ve donated tens of millions of dollars’ worth of helmets, vehicles, clothing and bulletproof vests while a new shipment of non-lethal Canadian equipment is expected to arrive in Kyiv in coming days.

Over the past six years the US and UK have pumped billions of dollars’ worth of weapons into the Ukraine.

Washington, London and Ottawa see the Ukraine as a proxy in their struggle to weaken Russia. As they’ve built up the Ukrainian military, they’ve failed to press Kyiv to implement its commitments to federalism and minority language rights under the German and French negotiated Minsk agreements. The best medium-term solution to the conflict is to grant autonomy to the breakaway republics in the Donbass region and for the Ukraine to remain a neutral state.

Canada gifting the Ukrainian military guns and bombs isn’t going to make this type of development more likely. Instead, it will slightly increase the chance of a cataclysmic nuclear war.

It is curious that some people point out how the wealthy and powerful promote their own interests regardless of the effects on the rest of us inside Canada but fail to question the wealthy and powerful when they do the same internationally.

The Tyee refused to publish this article.

On February 16 the Canadian Foreign Policy Institute will be hosting a webinar on “Canada, NATO, Russia and the Crisis over Ukraine”.

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