April 30, 2021

Canada asked to take a leading role in Ukraine’s path to NATO


The recent buildup of Russian troops along the border with Ukraine once again brought the question of Ukraine’s path to NATO to the forefront. Even though Russia decided to pull back their troops, the threat remains constant. One can only speculate whether this simply was a military exercise whose goals were completed, as Russia’s Defense Minister Sergei Shoigu claims, or whether Russian President Vladimir Putin actually blinked, as some pundits would have us believe.

Regardless, the episode did demonstrate the need to take forceful action to deter Russian aggression and any escalation of the conflict because one never knows exactly what Mr. Putin may have in mind when he embarks on his adventurist campaigns. During an online press conference with foreign journalists that included close to 100 participants from over 30 countries, representing 14 time zones, on April 20 Ukraine’s Foreign Affairs Minister Dmytro Kuleba urged Ukraine’s partners to impose sectoral sanctions in addition to personal ones. Specifically, Ukraine would like its partners to target the military industry, energy, construction, aero-space and financial sectors of Russia.

Ukraine’s NATO aspirations are based on several factors:

  • The 1994 Budapest Memorandum, under which Ukraine voluntarily gave up its nuclear arsenal in return for guarantees of its sovereignty and territorial integrity by the United States, the United Kingdom and the Russian Federation. This guarantee was blatantly violated by Russia and, even though there is no legal obligation for the U.S. and U.K. to defend Ukraine from Russian aggression, there is a moral one.
  • During the 20th NATO summit held in Bucharest in 2008, NATO announced its intention to bring both Ukraine and Georgia into the alliance. “NATO welcomes Ukraine’s and Georgia’s Euro-Atlantic aspirations for membership in NATO. We agreed today that these countries will become members of NATO,” read Article 23 of the official statement.
  • The majority of the population of Ukraine want NATO membership and Ukraine’s NATO aspirations were even written into the Constitution.
  • Ukraine has participated in more NATO exercises and actions than any other non-member and has been steadily bringing its military up to Western standards. In November 2019, the High Level Strategic Advisers of the Defense Reform Advisory Board (DRAB) of NATO commended the progress of reforms in Ukraine.

Ukraine has recently been given Enhanced Opportunities Partner (EOP) status. The EOP was launched by NATO in 2014 and its goal is to strengthen the interoperability of troops of the EOP countries with NATO forces. The next step is entry into the NATO Membership Action Plan (MAP), a program of advice, assistance and practical support tailored to the individual needs of countries wishing to join the Alliance.

Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskyy has appealed directly to Canadian Prime Minister Justin Trudeau to not only help Ukraine get in the MAP, but to take the lead in doing so. This reflects the “special relationship” the two countries enjoy – a relationship that’s based upon Canada being home to the free world’s largest Ukrainian diaspora, as well as Ukrainians being a regional founding nation of Canada. It was this special relationship that prompted then-Prime Minister Brian Mulroney to become the first Western leader to recognize Ukraine’s independence in 1991 and it is this special relationship that has made Canada Ukraine’s principal spokesperson in international circles.

While Canada is at best a middle power in terms of military and economic clout, it enjoys a reputation as an “honest broker” in international affairs, which allows it to exert an influence that surpasses its military and economic weight. When asked how Mr. Trudeau reacted to Mr. Zelenskyy’s request, spokespersons for the foreign affairs ministries of both countries have kept mum. But a telling answer was given to me by the press secretary for Canada’s prime minister’s office when pressed a second time to be more specific. “We don’t have anything to add on the record at this time.”

Given Canada’s behind-closed-doors approach to lobbying on Ukraine’s behalf, this could be interpreted as a sign it will do so again. The government, however, is not going to say so publicly.

If that’s the case, then we can only hope and pray that other NATO members will come around. The Russian Federation cannot be allowed to run rampant over Ukraine. Not only would that threaten the peace and security of the whole world, but given that Ukraine voluntarily gave up its nuclear arsenal, it would give a clear signal to any rogue regime with nuclear ambitions to go forth and proliferate.

Marco Levytsky may be contacted at ukrnews@shaw.ca.