OTTAWA – The national president of the Ukrainian Canadian Congress (UCC) has called on Canadian Prime Minister Justin Trudeau to take the lead in a United Nations peacekeeping mission in eastern Ukraine.
Following a September 22 meeting with Ukrainian President Petro Poroshenko in Toronto, Prime Minister Trudeau told reporters at a joint news conference with both leaders that a U.N. mission could ensure that “people are able to live their lives in peace and security in a way that upholds the principles of international law that, quite frankly, Russia violated with its illegitimate actions.”
But he did not commit Canadian troops to such an operation, which President Poroshenko has requested for the Donbas region since 2015.
The UCC not only wants Canadian peacekeepers in Ukraine, it hopes that Canada would direct the U.N. mission there.
“Canada has the experience and the history of peacekeeping and is best positioned to do this,” said UCC President Paul Grod, who raised the issue in a discussion with Prime Minister Trudeau and President Poroshenko following their meeting on the margins of the Invictus Games in Toronto, an international sporting competition for injured soldiers that both leaders attended.
Canadian involvement in U.N. peacekeeping missions is almost synonymous with the country’s identity, thanks in large part to a future Canadian prime minister, Lester B. Pearson, who won the Nobel Peace Prize for helping to resolve the Suez Crisis in 1956 through his idea of a peacekeeping force, which at the time also involved Canadian troops.
That history, along with today’s geopolitical reality, makes Canada better suited to lead a U.N. mission in Ukraine than the United States, France or Germany, said Mr. Grod.
“The Trump administration is very unpredictable in terms of where it’s going to be positioned vis-à-vis Russia, Ukraine and the rest of Europe, and is not in the best position to bring together a coordinated effort by the international community,” he said in an interview.
“France has the drive and the interest to move this forward, but I think Ukraine is probably pretty low on the foreign-policy list for the French.”
Mr. Grod explained that Germany will be preoccupied with domestic issues in at least the short term following the recent German election that has left re-elected Chancellor Angela Merkel scrambling to assemble a coalition to govern in light of a historic showing by the right-wing Alternative for Germany party.
“When you look at the other nations that could potentially take the lead on a U.N. peacekeeping mission, Canada – politically – is the most stable, has support for Ukraine from all political parties in Canada, and has the opportunity to bring peace to Ukraine,” Mr. Grod said.
“We’re trying to press on the prime minister that all the stars have lined up for Canada to take the lead on this, and an opportunity for Mr. Trudeau to be a Lester B. Pearson in terms of his leadership on the global stage in bringing peace to a conflict that has been ongoing for the last three years,” he added.
Following the Ukrainian president’s visit to Canada, Harjit Sajjan, Canada’s defense minister, traveled to Ukraine to explore the possibility of further support for Ukraine’s military, including – it is believed – a role for Canada in a U.N. peacekeeping mission.
Mr. Grod said that Mr. Poroshenko views Canada as playing a pivotal role in Ukraine’s future. “I think the president of Ukraine is starting to recognize the strategic importance of Canada,” the UCC president said.
“Unfortunately, what happened historically is that Canada has always been looked at as a middle power, and I think the president of Ukraine has finally realized that Canada, although a middle power in terms of its military strength and capacity, very much helps influence and moves the agenda of the big powers, and it makes a lot of sense for Ukraine to be working through Canada to bring the international community onside.”
Mr. Grod said he also believes that a significant part of Canada’s clout rests with Prime Minister Trudeau’s “star power on the international stage” that augments his government’s “very clear” foreign-policy position on Ukraine, as articulated particularly by Foreign Affairs Minister Chrystia Freeland, a Ukrainian Canadian, who was promoted to the senior Cabinet post earlier this year.
As a result, President Poroshenko sees Canada as “one of the more stable and reliable partners right now” for Ukraine, said Mr. Grod.
Still, there are Ukrainian and UCC requests to the Canadian government that have not been fully answered.
During President Poroshenko’s recent Canadian visit, Prime Minister Trudeau said his government would add Ukraine to the Automatic Firearms Country Control List, a process that began under former Conservative Prime Minister Stephen Harper’s government in 2015 that would allow Canadian weapons manufacturers to sell and ship arms to Ukraine.
Mr. Trudeau said that Ukraine would “absolutely” be added to that list, but told reporters at his news conference with Mr. Poroshenko that “a series of criteria” first “have to be reached,” without providing any detail. However, it’s believed likely to happen by the time Ukrainian Prime Minister Volodymyr Groysman visits Canada in late October.
On a government-to-government basis, Ukraine has also asked Canada to provide lethal-aid assistance in the form of defensive weapons. But Mr. Grod believes Canada is awaiting President Donald Trump’s signoff to authorize the U.S. equipping Ukraine with arms, as U.S. Defense Secretary Jim Mattis said this was under consideration during his visit to Kyiv last month.
“Canada will not take the lead on arming Ukraine. At best, it will follow the Americans,” said Mr. Grod, a former investment banker and corporate lawyer, who now runs a Canadian energy company called Rodan.
“Canada doesn’t want to get in front of the largest member of NATO and without the support of the Five Eyes [the intelligence alliance comprising Canada, the U.S., the United Kingdom, Australia and New Zealand], which all tend to move in tandem.”
He suspects the U.S. may be using any weapons shipments to Ukraine as “a bit of a stick” against Russia, which wants any peacekeeping operation restricted to monitoring the front line between Russian-backed separatist forces and the Ukrainian military in the Donbas.
“The Americans may be taking the position that if Russia doesn’t agree to a U.N. peacekeeping mission, it will then arm Ukraine,” said Mr. Grod.
In an exclusive interview with Canadian Broadcasting Corp. (CBC) television news on September 23, President Poroshenko rejected Russia’s proposal to only protect monitors from the Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe near the battlefield there to ensure the 2014 Minsk Protocol to end the war is on track.
He said he also asked Prime Minister Trudeau to restart a satellite imagery-sharing program with Ukraine’s military that the former Conservative government began in 2015 but which the current Liberal government ended the following year. RADARSAT-2 images would help Ukraine “implement the Minsk agreement, to have evidence that Russia moved their tanks, artillery systems [and] multi-rocket launch systems,” Mr. Poroshenko told CBC’s Rosemary Barton.
Among the president’s other “asks,” according to Mr. Grod, is that Mr. Poroshenko be invited to the next G-7 summit to be held in the Canadian province of Quebec next June and press the government leaders of the Group of Seven countries and the European Union, which also participates in the annual meeting, to take a leadership role in supporting Ukraine’s political and economic development and reforms.
But Mr. Grod is concerned about a “disconnect” between Canada’s foreign-policy objectives regarding Ukraine and the amount of money the Canadian government needs to allocate toward helping Ukraine maintain its sovereignty and territorial integrity.
He explained that Canada has provided about $50 million ($40 million U.S.) a year in international technical assistance to Ukraine to help reform the country’s police and judiciary, and develop a system of regional government. But those programs end over the next two years, and the Trudeau government has not committed to renewing them.
Mr. Grod explained that in a meeting this summer with UCC officials, Canadian International Development Minister Marie-Claude Bibeau, who oversees international technical assistance, said that “there is no money for continuing these programs in Ukraine. The government’s focus will be on helping the poorest, and on women and children.”
“That’s a big deviation from the previous [Harper] government. The current government has taken a completely different approach to international technical assistance, where its foreign-policy priorities don’t seem to line up with its international funding focus. It doesn’t make sense,” he noted.
Mr. Grod said he got a “non-answer” from Mr. Trudeau when he raised the issue with him in New York City on September 19 when the two, along with Minister Freeland, sat together at an awards dinner at which the prime minister received a Global Citizen Award from the Atlantic Council, a Washington-based American think tank focused on global affairs that also promotes a strong and independent Ukraine.
Mr. Trudeau said that, “it’s something that we need to continue to look at,” recalled Mr. Grod, who nonetheless believes the prime minister is “doing a great job on the Ukraine file.” (The UCC was one of the proponents of Mr. Trudeau receiving and accepting the Global Citizen Award from the Atlantic Council, which the congress also supports through funding the council’s Ukraine in Europe Initiative.)
“But our job is to point out where there are inconsistencies and how we can move different agendas forward,” added the UCC president, who pointed to such incongruity in Mr. Trudeau’s remarks at the awards gala.
“Worldwide, the long-established international order is being tested. With Russia’s illegal annexation of Crimea and encroachment in Ukraine, we have seen the first major territorial seizure in Europe since the Second World War,” the prime minister said. “This is not the time for retrenchment. It is a time for the Atlantic democracies to renew our commitment to universal standards of rights and liberty, enforced through a multilateral rules-based order that has promoted peace and stability and stood the test of time.”
Mr. Grod commented: “If that’s his foreign-policy focus, then he needs to put money behind that – and that’s where it seems to be disconnected.”