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Support for Ukraine most urgently means supplying weapons

Human attention spans being what they are, the Russian invasion of Ukraine isn’t as front and center as it was a couple of months ago. Well, not here. You can be sure the issue is very much top of mind for the people of Ukraine.

While forced to pull back from several fronts in its attacks, Russia is making headway in the eastern parts of Ukraine, looking to gain control there as it did with Crimea in 2014. The West has a responsibility to help drive the Russians out entirely. Anything less could be taken as a Russian “win,” opening the door to yet more aggression.

The Ukrainians’ principal need right now is for weapons. The West has provided some, but fighters there need more given the numbers advantage enjoyed by the Russians. More means not only resupplying them but providing the Ukrainians with more advanced weaponry.

A senior Ukrainian presidential aide last week told the BBC that his country needs hundreds of Western artillery systems to level the playing field with Russia in the eastern Donbas region.

“The Russian forces have thrown pretty much everything non-nuclear at the front and that includes heavy artillery, multiple rocket launch systems and aviation,” said Mykhaylo Podolyak.

He repeated Ukraine’s appeal for more weapons from the West, saying that the “complete lack of parity” between the Russian and Ukrainian armies was the reason for Ukraine’s heavy casualty rate.

“Our demands for artillery are not just some kind of whim… but an objective need when it comes to the situation on the battlefield,” he said, adding that Ukraine needs 150 to 300 rocket launch systems to match Russia.

That’s in line with President Volodymyr Zelensky’s requests, including one made directly to Canada in April. Artillery is a key need.

“Freedom must be armed better than tyranny,” Zelensky said in an English statement at the time. “Western countries have everything to make it happen.”

Ukraine’s embassy in Ottawa said the country needed “heavy weapons” as soon as possible.

“Ukraine urgently needs heavy weapons to protect the lives of our citizens and to counter the Russian offensive,” a statement from the embassy said. “The immediate shipment of weapons is needed to support Ukrainian forces right now.”

When it comes to Ukraine, Canadians are in a cooperative mood.

A study from the non-profit Angus Reid Institute released last month found Canadians mostly supportive of the fashion with which their government has responded and sought to support Ukraine, while many say they are doing their own part to help.

A quarter of Canadians (27 per cent) say they have donated money to support efforts to help Ukrainians since the war began in late February. Those over the age of 54 are most likely to be following the conflict and to have opened up their wallets. On the more symbolic side of this scale, nearly the same number (28 per cent) have posted something in support on social media. A handful of Canadians (three per cent) say they have sponsored or supported a Ukrainian refugee or refugee family.

At the governmental level, where policy decisions can wield much more considerable influence, Canadians are largely supportive of efforts made to this point. Hundreds of millions of dollars have been offered in both weaponry and financial assistance, in addition to sanctions targeting Russian oligarchs and businesses. Three-in-five (61 per cent) say they approve of the way the government has responded, while 22 per cent disapprove and 17 per cent are unsure.

That said, many suggest Canada should do more. Ukrainian officials have requested more weaponry and support in recent weeks, while others say the Canadian government has been slow to commit to offering much needed heavy weapons. Two-in-five (38 per cent) say this country has not done enough, the same number who say it has offered about the right level of assistance, according the study.

While the Russian invasion and war crimes have been crowded out of our consciousness, we can’t simply let the matter drop. There’s too much at stake, starting with the humanitarian crisis.

Canada, which has backed statements about protecting Ukraine’s sovereignty with policy moves designed to hurt Putin and the oligarchs that support him. Along with others, Canada has joined in with support for banking restrictions and sanctions such as banning the import of Russian oil, which remains one of that nation’s largest exports.

As a net exporter of crude oil, Canada hasn’t imported oil from Russia since 2019, but other countries have implemented bans of their own. It’s all part of a plan to hit Putin and his supporters where they live.

Efforts to hobble Russian’ central bank have been effective thus far, sending the ruble into a freefall. More of that will be needed, with the goal of making life uncomfortable for everyone in the country such that they question the actions of the decidedly authoritarian government.

Though clearly there is more to that can be done to tighten the screws on Putin and his supporters – not just his fellow kleptocrats, but also those who help him remain in power – the West has been quick to inflict at least some pain on Russia.

Did Putin really think Ukrainians would welcome his forces with open arms? That (financially supported) friendly types such as those found in the Donbas region represented wider public sentiment for rejoining the Russian sphere? If so, it was a grave miscalculation.

That’s true, too, if the goal is to restore some kind of Soviet-era buffer zone between Russia and NATO countries.

Such trappings of the Cold War remain a consideration today, both in terms of analyzing Russia’s actions and in strengthening NATO’s readiness, particularly in the Baltic states. That Putin has his sights set on areas beyond Ukraine is cause for concern.

Putin has certainly railed against NATO membership for Ukraine, and indeed against any Europeanization of that country. It’s a stance that has involved manipulating the Ukrainian electoral system and, of course, direct invasion.

That Ukraine is leaning westward rather than kowtowing to Moscow chafes Putin, and at least partly explains the West’s quick action to condemn and punish the invasion. Russia and US, among others, have invaded and occupied other countries and regions without this kind of response, but this time it’s an authoritarian regime terrorizing a Europeanized nation.

Moreover, 20th century history shows us the risks of appeasing similar acts of annexation among European neighbours for often dubious reasons backed by spurious claims.

There’s no room for talk of concessions when it’s within the West’s power to punish Russia and provide the Ukrainians with the arms needed to push the Russians back from every part of their country, Crimea included.

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