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Wednesday, 22 April 2015

Beaver Bites, Bear Fights: Harper and Russia

Stephen Harper has gone from grandstanding to recklessness in Ukraine. The man is acting the fool in his decision to place Canadian's at risk over Ukraine. Canada cannot win in the P.R battle started by Stephen Harper, but at this point, I am not sure Stephen Harper cares. The Ukraine fiasco may actually be a moral vision he believes in: terrifying.

It was one thing for our prime minister to make a laughing stock of himself as he played big boy and, "shirt fronted" Vladimir Putin at the G20 summit in Australia. It is another thing entirely to send two hundred military advisors to train the ad hoc assembly of militants Ukraine has collected to fight the pro-Russian insurgency in the Donbass region.

Even if we take the word of our prime minister seriously and presume that the soldiers will only be training armed forces, and police, not the Neo-Nazi militants of the Azov Battalion, Right Sector or other Svoboda sympathizers (already being integrated into Ukrainian regular force units) we will still be jeopardizing Canadian good will in the eyes of the world. Our prime minister is entangling our armed forces in a struggle in which Canada has zero interest.

The only interested party in the Ukraine Crisis is our prime minster himself who sees an opportunity to both appease his masters in NATO and by extension the United States while he gathers steam for the upcoming election.  With approximately 1.2 Million Canadians of Ukrainian descent, many presumably residing in conservative party dominated rural constituencies, Stephen Harper is clinging to the opportunity to create goodwill in the Ukrainian Canadian community and it is working: at the expense of electoral support among other opposition groups and likely foreign policy realists among his own party colleagues. But worst of all he is putting our veterans in jeopardy, veterans who have already faced punitive service cuts under the Harper regime, even after they took part in his nation building exercise in Afghanistan.

Furthermore, Stephen Harper does not seem to be able to understand the difference between existential threats of a genocidal and terrifying nature and a local border skirmish rapidly escalating at the behest of a western backed junta. Stephen Harper's call for interventions in Iraq are a startling alternative to his Ukraine folly. In Iraq Saddam Hussein had crushed the Kurds under his rule, invaded both Kuwait and Iran, and enacted massive pogroms against the Marsh Arabs and other Sunnis within Iraq. Saddam was a genocidal fiend who terrorized the people of his country, and there was a case to be made in favour of intervention and nation building after the gas attacks on the Kurds. Most cry that WMDs were never in Iraq, but they take a very narrow definition of what constitutes a WMD—and at their own shame. I am no pacifist. I believe there is a place for multilateral action in the Congo, Palestine, Darfur, and Iraq just to name a handful, but this Ukrainian entanglement is a terrible idea. Stephen Harper cannot seem to see a difference between a genocidal millenarian evil in ISIS and his Ukrainian travesty where no matter what the western nations do they will only succeed in compounding the problem.

Stephen Harper for all his endorsements of national self-determination cannot seem to put the wishes of the Ukrainian people in the Crimea and Donbass regions above international law: international law itself being an oxymoron. But this does show just how in the foreign policy sphere our prime minster manipulates whatever he needs to in order to ensure that his vision can be endorsed by whatever trivial metric he chooses.

Ukraine itself is a country of debatable paternity and realism. Ukraine first truly came into existence at the end of the First World War as part of the draconian Brest-Litovsk treaty of 1918. Before 1918, Ukraine had been made up of parts of the Austrian, Lithuanian, Polish, Russian, and Ottoman Empires. As much as our leaders love to draw neat lines across the world to divide it in perpetuity, the world is not made up of neat lines and enclaves exist everywhere. We cannot have both the right to self-determination and the hack and slash borders drawn at the close of the Great War. Ukraine in many ways is just another Africa, Palestine, Czechoslovakia, and former Yugoslavia not in precise terms, but rather in its amalgamation of two peoples who now have differing interpretations of sovereignty. It is no surprise that the east of the country wishes to pull away from Ukraine, they are Russians, and likewise the west has long been tied closely to the more western portions of Europe. We deny these differences at our own folly. The Euromaidan revolution was a revolution in Kiev; it was not a revolution countrywide. This is something again unrecognized by our prime minister.

Stephen Harper condemned the referendum in Ukraine. It is to his shame that independent PEW and Gallup polls have found widespread support in the peninsula for President Putin and Russia. Why need he press further? The swifter defeat falls upon the Kiev government the sooner the process of rebuilding the bankrupt and backward country can begin.

It cannot just be a moral crusade and a lack of realism, which drives our prime minister. Rather it must also be the fact that he envisions himself as some sort of cold warrior in an era when the cold war is long dead. He wishes to take up the role he wished Canada had played in the cold war—that of the major player in NATO—I can think of no other childish reason our prime minister would pit himself against such an adversary as Russia. Russia has immense stockpiles of nuclear weapons, and whether or not its GDP is comparable to China, the USA, or many other smaller nations, which it isn't—is irrelevant. Ever since Peter the Great pushed the Russian frontier into Europe the Russians have viewed themselves as a super power, and super powers act on their own terms to protect their interests, often legitimately, often not. However, super powers are never ones to kowtow to their lessers.  Nevertheless, to engage Russia with any presumption of equality Stephen Harper makes a fool out of Canadians. Our tiny military force, some 51,000 Active personal in contrast to Russia's 2.5Mil ignoring the massive disparity in the rest of the capabilities, would be funny if it weren't for the fact that our prime ministers eagerly presumes he has NATO backing, and therefore the privilege of talking big. When in fact Vladimir Putin almost certainly finds it laughable that we presume to speak so loudly for so many others.

Vladimir Putin wins because he knows NATO has a false consensus and there is very little likelihood that the NATO alliance would actually act to intervene for the sake of a small Baltic nation or Ukraine. This is because unlike the Soviet Union the modern Russia does not threaten the world it only seeks to act in its interest. Something that the west needs to come to terms with as the global great power polarity shifts toward, Russia, India, and China.

Russia has been bullied by the west; the expansion of NATO seemed almost punitive as the former republics of the Soviet Union swallowed up despite the implicit guarantees of Bush Senior. So the west knew full well what it was doing as it pushed past Putin's red lines in Serbia, and now Ukraine... and our Prime Minister has been back channeling since the crisis began. Stephen Harper has done a great deal of good for Canada, but like his free trade his foreign policy has been disastrous. Again, he is playing political games he cannot win, against an adversary he need not have. Stephen Harper like his counterpart David Cameron, and to a lesser extent Barack Obama accept a multi-polar world on paper, but do not in action. Little do they know that for all their combined praise of international norms, they only make the actions of the international institutions more difficult  by exiling and provoking Russia, but Russia is still weak, unlike China so Harper had better bite the bear while he can.

Harper, "actions we saw before the second world war." 

Stephen Harper: "Get out of Ukraine."

Follow up Gallup and Pew polls have found support for the integration of Crimea into Russia

200 Training staff to Ukraine

Ukrainian Canadians

Volunteer Battalions being integrated