Russia-Ukraine tensions: What should Canada do?

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Canada can and should be more engaged in de-escalation efforts at the Ukraine border where Russia is amassing troops but must focus on its diplomatic strengths, says national security experts.

In an interview on CTV’s Question Period airing Sunday, Richard Fadden, former CSIS director and national security adviser to Prime Minister Justin Trudeau, said that includes calling out Russian aggression and threatening further sanctions, in union with NATO allies.

“We should be out there beating the bushes with our allies arguing, maybe send some more troops on a rotational basis, make sure sanctions that are now in place are fully respected, argue for bigger sanctions, but I don’t think we can do a great deal on our own,” he said.

“One good thing that has come out of what Putin has done is it’s pulled NATO together again, and I think we should build on that.”

Canadian officials have been watching closely the situation at Ukraine’s eastern border, where Russia has sent 100,000 troops raising concerns about the potential of an invasion.

Trudeau spoke with Ukraine President Volodymyr Zelenskyy this week about the military buildup, on the eve of a key meeting in Brussels between the 30-country NATO alliance and Russia.

Zelensky reiterated that the West must be ready to impose further sanctions against Russia should the situation escalate.

Russia has called on NATO to guarantee it won’t expand eastward into Ukraine, a demand the alliance and Ukraine itself flatly reject.

On Wednesday, Trudeau told reporters that Canada condemns Russian aggression and the buildup of troops and is prepared to proceed with “significant” consequences if necessary.

Fadden said he doesn’t believe Russian President Vladimir Putin is seeking complete control over Ukraine.

“I think that harks back to the days when the Soviet Union controlled without owning a bunch of countries in Eastern Europe. I don’t think he wants to invade Ukraine and take it over, I think he wants to find some way of ensuring some measure of control short of going through a full-scale war,” he said.

Peter MacKay, a former defence and foreign affairs minister, told CTV’s Question Period that there is more Canada can do diplomatically, noting the government has been “a bit absent” from the conversation up to this point.

“[U.S.] President Biden has been making the rounds and calling countries looking for their support. We haven’t been part of those discussions,” he said.

“I would suggest that the thing that Russia fears the most and that Putin doesn’t want to see is not an inclusion in NATO but it’s a resilient, independent, sovereign, corruption-free Ukraine – and that’s what we should be helping to do, is build resilience and build their capacity within governance. That’s one of the [areas] where Canada can add value.”

As part of Operation UNIFIER, Canada sends a group of about 200 Canadian Armed Forces members to Ukraine every six months.

Set to end in March 2022, the operation’s focus is to assist with security force training to build capability and capacity.

The government has also sent money through international organizations to fund humanitarian efforts there, and has provided development assistance to the country, focused on enhancing electoral, judicial, anti-corruption, and health and social policy.

Fadden said discussions around Canada’s role in Ukraine reinforce the need for a foreign security policy.

“We need a foreign policy that’s holistic and comprehensive so that we can allocate military, diplomatic and economic tools. Right now, I think there’s a little too much ad hockery,” he said.

With a file from The Canadian Press.

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