The situation in eastern Ukraine is grave and deteriorating, causing concern in NATO capitals in Europe and North America. Not since the end of the Cold War has there been a comparable crisis in Europe.
In reaction to Russian aggression there, NATO has requested Canadian military assets be deployed in Europe, and today Prime Minister Stephen Harper announced Canada is sending six CF-18s and military personnel in response.
CBC News reports that the PM said earlier today:
I believe this to be a long-term serious threat to global peace and security and we’re always prepared to work with our allies in NATO and elsewhere to try and bring whatever stability we can to the situation.”
Along with the fighter aircraft, there will be a small number of support staff to fly and maintain them. Canada will also provide up to 20 officers to NATO headquarters in Brussels where they are expected to take part in that body’s security planning. The planes and ground crew will be based in Poland.
According to Canadian Press:
The fighter jets will join warplanes from the United States, Britain, Denmark, Poland, Portugal and Germany, which will be deploying in waves between now and the fall.
“Canada is also slated to take part in July in a long-planned, U.S.-led military exercise in Ukraine, known as Rapid Trident 2014, but the government has been not forthcoming about the size and scope of the country’s involvement.”
Meanwhile, several government buildings in eastern Ukraine have been attacked and seized by what have been described as armed pro-Russian protesters in much the same manner as that which preceded Russia’s recent annexation of Crimea.
As well, there is a report that three of the pro-Russian militants have been killed and 13 others injured when Ukrainian troops repelled an attack on their National Guard base in the Black Sea port of Mariupol. Reportedly, around 300 armed men attacked the base in the south-east part of the country with stun grenades and Molotov cocktails before being driven off.
Many of the pro-Russian “protesters” wear masks and are, apparently, disciplined, battle-ready militia who carry sophisticated firearms and many in Ukraine suspect they are, in fact, Russian special forces. But Russian President Vladimir Putin has insisted, “It’s all nonsense, there are no Russian units, special forces or instructors in the east of Ukraine.”
Paradoxically, while still trying to maintain that fiction, Vladimir Putin has finally admitted that Russian soldiers in unmarked uniforms had invaded Ukraine’s Crimean Peninsula before its annexation by Russia.
Moreover, the Russian leader continues to build his case, repeating—in a televised question-and-answer show—his rationale for claiming a national interest in eastern Ukraine. He said regions there have historically been part of the Russian empire and were what he called “Novorossiya” or “New Russia” before they were handed over to Ukraine by the Bolsheviks in the 1920s. Putin said that Kharkiv, Lugansk, Donetsk, Odessa were not part of Ukraine in Czarist times.
It is unclear whether Putin wants to annex this section of “New Russia” outright or to merely intimidate Ukraine officials into transforming their country into a loose federation that would remain weak and easily influenced by Russia. But there has to be a reason Russia still has 40,000 troops massed on Ukraine’s border.
Prime Minister Stephen Harper has described the Russian government as “clearly aggressive, militaristic and imperialistic,” and “a significant threat to peace and stability in the world.” Strong words indeed.
On a more positive note, diplomats from Ukraine, the United States, the European Union and Russia met today and have agreed on a series of steps aimed at de-escalating violence in Ukraine.
It will, however, take more than strong words and diplomatic meetings to deter Vladimir Putin from his goal of reclaiming regions of Eastern Europe that were historically part of the old Russian empire—his “New Russia.” We know what his end game is.
Wasn’t Alaska once part of Russia?