Russian’s ongoing invasion of Ukraine represents the largest hostile action – and the refugee crisis that comes along with it – that Europe’s seen since the Second World War. There are plenty of parallels to that time eight decades ago.
Right from the onset, Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky likened Putin’s indefensible actions to the Nazi invasion. Ukraine knows all about such atrocities, having been subjected to barbarism under the yoke of the Soviet Union, both before and after Nazi occupation. The pre-war, Stalin-inflicted famine – the Holodomor – claimed an estimated 3.9 million lives in Ukraine, for example.
One can’t help but think about history as the Ukraine defenders seek more tanks from their western allies to drive back the Russians. Soldiers are using both Soviet-era tanks and more modern equipment from NATO countries, with German-made Leopard 2 and American Abrams tanks in the offing.
The squabble over clearances pales somewhat in the juxtaposition of Ukraine, Germany and Poland working out details in a fight against Russia. The historical issues dating back to WWII and the Cold War that followed make for fascinating reading – countries shifted from ally to enemy and back again.
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Just now, it’s Russia posing the greatest threat to not only peace in Europe, but to the wider economic climate. We’ve certainly seen that in the likes of gas prices and food shortages, for instance.
Still, the West continues to support Ukraine in the fight. A Nanos poll found 70 per cent of Canadians support increasing aid to Ukraine, for example.
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.
Many say Canada should do more. Ukrainian officials have requested more weaponry and support, while others say the Canadian government has been slow to commit to offering much needed heavy weapons.
While the Russian invasion and war crimes are not as central as they were a year ago, 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 that 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 the 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 Russian and provide the Ukrainians with the arms needed to push the Russians back from every part of their country, Crimea included.
Certainly, there should be no talk of a negotiated settlement. Any concession is a win for Putin, and would only encourage future aggression.
As Brookings Institution historian Robert Kagan told Thomas Friedman of the New York Times, “Any negotiation that leaves Russian forces in place on Ukrainian soil will only be a temporary truce before Putin’s next attempt.
“Putin is in the process of completely militarizing Russian society, much as Stalin did during World War II. He is in it for the long haul, and he is counting on the United States and the West to grow weary at the prospect of a long conflict.”
Globe and Mail columnist Andrew Coyne was of the same mind about negotiations.
“To what end? What is there to negotiate? It’s a zero-sum game. Either Russia is permitted to seize the internationally recognized territory of a sovereign state by force of arms, or it is not,” he wrote in a piece Friday.
“The game, moreover, is not singular, but iterative. Even if it were possible for a Ukrainian government to concede Ukrainian territory to Russian control – after all that has gone before, and knowing the horrors that were to come for its Ukrainian inhabitants – and even if you were not concerned by the precedent this set, and even if that bought a temporary ceasefire, it would not put an end to the conflict, or the threat that underlies it. The ransom might have been paid, but Russia would still be there, poised on Ukraine’s border, ready to resume the attack at any time. All you would have done was buy time for Russia’s forces to recuperate.”
Clearly, there’s no room for negotiations, with everything to gain by aiding Ukraine in every way on the road to victory.