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Canada and NATO must act decisively in ensuring Ukraine’s sovereignty

By Luis Armando Sanchez Diaz, February 14 2022—

Over the past weeks, the world has witnessed the continuous escalation of the political and military tensions between Ukraine and Russia. Intelligence shared by several entities of Western countries and by Ukrainian officials has determined that Russia has amassed more than 100,000 military personnel near its eastern border with Ukraine since early December. All to launch a coordinated attack on their neighbouring nation and begin a direct armed confrontation between the former Soviet republics.

This attack also has the potential to attack from multiple fronts, like through the north, via Belarus, led by Alexander Lukashenko — an authoritarian autocrat just like Vladimir Putin who has led the country since 1994 and where Russia has sent troops, military equipment, and vehicles in what is being labelled as a joint military exercise. As well, from the southwest through Transnistria, a breakaway state of Moldova that is backed by the Russian government.

The deployment of troops has been the most significant military action taken by the Kremlin since 2014 when Russian forces annexed the Crimean Peninsula — in the southern part of the Ukrainian nation with direct and strategic access to the Black Sea.

The events resulted in international condemnation and ever since then, Canada along with other Western nations have launched an aligned set of sanctions directed at Russian individuals with links to the military incursion and government plans. As of 2022, Canada has targeted more than 400 individuals through these sanctions that range from freezing assets to a travel ban that prohibits them from stepping on Canadian soil.   

Moreover, the expulsion of Russia from the Group of 8 (G8), now known as the Group of Seven (G7) — consisting of Canada, Italy, the United Kingdom, Japan, Germany, France and the United States — was part of the measures taken in response to the annexation of Crimea.

However, the sanctions over Crimea did not stop the Kremlin as the events were followed by the takeover by separatists groups that are backed and supported by the Russian government, of the regions of Donetsk and Luhansk, also known as the Donbas, in the same year. Eventually, this led to an ongoing armed confrontation between them and the Ukrainian Armed Forces that have resulted in the death to date of more than 13,000 Ukrainians in the region. 

The move, which Vladimir Putin himself would declare, would be the largest invasion to date since the Second World War and would prompt a rapid change in the political and economic spheres — completely changing the world, as stated by U.S president Joe Biden.

The assessment of the American president is certainly right, as it would cause an immediate political earthquake across the world by the clear emergence and consolidation of a tripolar international order between the United States, Russia and China.

The world can, as well, expect an intense disruption of the global economy — which is trying to recover from the economic shock caused by the COVID-19 pandemic — due to the trading interconnectedness and codependency that exist among nations.  

The existence of the North America Treaty Organization (NATO) founded in 1949, has become more fundamental than ever as it has the main goal of creating military cooperation between its 27 members, Canada included, and mutual defence between them in case of an act of aggression made by another nation.

An attack on a member is considered an attack on all of them as stated in Article 5 of the North Atlantic Treaty. NATO along with the European Union (EU) and the U.S have tried to follow the diplomatic path as a way to cool down the Russo-Ukrainian tensions, but it is uncertain if Russia will abide by that path as well. Mainly since the two main requests made by Putin’s government — to block any attempts of Ukraine to potentially join NATO in the near future and the retreat of the allied troops from Eastern Europe — were turned down by the U.S and NATO. 

The events have raised questions of what can and should the West do regarding this situation to counter Russia’s expansionist plan and ensure Ukraine’s sovereignty as well as to preserve stability across Europe.

From my vantage point Canada, the U.S and the European Union must assist Ukraine in any military capacity possible, without sending troops into Ukrainian soil to fight along with them, if indeed an armed conflict with Russia happens. Just as it has been happening through the training by Canadian Armed Forces (CAF) to Ukrainian military members under Operation Unifier — which currently has deployed 200 CAF members to Ukraine with 60 more on their way.

In addition, the allied nations should provide military weaponry and financial assistance just as the U.K did with the shipping of anti-tank weapons or the CAD $120 million loan Canada has provided. 

Additionally, enacting robust economic sanctions that have a direct impact on the Russian economy to deter the Kremlin should be considered. As mentioned by leaders across the West in recent days, no action can be ruled out or be off the table — everything must be considered to stop Russia from invading Ukraine or for it to pay a huge price for their actions if they proceed accordingly.

Preserving Ukraine’s sovereignty is an essential element in retaining stability not only in Europe but in the U.S and Canada, as well. The West must stand united with the Ukrainian people to counter the Russian regime or any other authoritarian nation’s expansionist ideals and violent actions, along with the promotion and protection of the democratic values embedded in our Western societies.  

Ukraine is an independent country and is free to determine what route it chooses to take in alignment with the interests of its citizens and should always consider the best possible paths to enhance the prosperity of its citizens.

That is why I strongly encourage the idea of Ukraine joining NATO and the EU — if Ukrainians independently decide to do so. European leaders must keep in mind that furthering and expanding the frontiers of the European Union, the Schengen zone and NATO are in the best interest of a united and prosperous Europe and it is a paramount element in economic and military terms. 

Moreover, NATO must stand firm and continue deploying, in strong numbers, troops across Eastern Europe to command presence in the region. The Kremlin and Putin know very well that when the West is present, there is no way forward in advancing their authoritarian goals.

If he wants the allied forces to retreat from Eastern Europe, then he must de-escalate the tension with Ukraine and stop his expansionist ideals. Putin, as well, must stop directing and supporting foreign interference into the electoral processes and governmental entities of Western countries, as a way to create destabilization and undermine the democratic values he repudiates.

Just as it took place during the Brexit vote in the U.K and the 2016 U.S presidential election through the spreading of misinformation across social media platforms or as the recent alleged cyber-attack on Global Affairs Canada

Alternatively, Putin must focus on his people and concerning domestic issues as the country continues to be battered by the COVID-19 pandemic. It is averaging more than 70,000 cases per day riding over an Omicron wave that has yet to peak with more than 300,000 Russians dead due to the virus since 2020.

When it comes to vaccinations, roughly half of Russians have received one shot of the COVID-19, while only 48 per cent are fully immunized. In economic terms, the current GDP per capita of the Russian Federation, as of 2020, stands at  USD $10,126 while Canada’s rests at USD $43,258. Further, there are new economic figures that show that Russia currently holds an eight per cent inflation rate and the World Bank projects a GDP growth of only 1.8 per cent for 2023.

Putin has a lot of work to focus on behalf of his citizens but instead, he is weighing in on whether to launch or not an armed conflict with Ukraine. His focus should be on making sure all his citizens have stable living conditions — Russians deserve a government and a leader that works for them. 

I very much hope, like a lot of people around the world, that this conflict does not further escalate and no armed conflict arises. Given the human life that is at stake and the millions of people that would be displaced from Ukraine, potentially leading to a humanitarian crisis at the doors of Western Europe.

Canada and NATO must act decisively in ensuring Ukraine’s sovereignty considering how an important ally it is, as a strong and independent Ukraine, will serve as a crucial pillar in maintaining Europe’s security and economic stability. As well as preserving the geopolitical goals the West have in common which I considered are shared by millions of Ukrainians.

In these tumultuous times, we cannot back down or take a passive role. We have a role to play when it comes to deterring authoritarian regimes that seek to destabilize any region or go against the democratic and inclusive values we stand for. 

Due to an increasingly expansionist Russia, we must stand with Ukraine and give them all the support we can. Ukrainians are resilient and are ready to defend their territory with courage and determination and they will not be intimidated. Vladimir Putin needs to understand that the West will not tolerate his behaviour and any aggression towards Ukraine will be severely countered — the Soviet Union days are over.

This article is part of our Opinions section and does not necessarily reflect the views of the Gauntlet’s editorial board.

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