Canadians who hoped the federal election last October 19 would usher in change to the aggressive, foreign policy of the defeated Conservative government are wondering what happened to their wishes. The transition in imperialist foreign policy from the Harper Conservatives to the Justin Trudeau-led Liberals has been utterly seamless, if not predictable.
In the Middle East, Canada’s support to ‘regime change’ in Syria stands. The Liberals stirred controversy during the election when they promised to end Canada’s participation in the U.S.-led military intervention in northern Iraq. But surprise: while the Liberals did carry out a promised withdrawal of the six fighter jets that weren’t doing much anyway in the skies over Syria and Iraq, they ended up tripling the presence of Canadian soldiers on the ground in Iraq, to approximately 200.
And the new government made unpleasant waves when it upheld the export permit approval by the Conservatives for the U.S. arms manufacturer General Dynamics to sell $15 billion worth of the armoured personnel transport vehicles it manufactures in London, Ontario to the dictatorship in Saudi Arabia.
Sabre rattling by the new-same-old government in Ottawa has been expressed most fully during and after the NATO summit meeting held in Warsaw, Poland on July 8 and 9.
Canada and the NATO war summit meeting in Warsaw, Poland
The NATO summit approved a final communiqué which places the military alliance on a collision course with Russia. The communiqué voices NATO’s determination to escalate its threats against Russia, using the pretexts of an alleged “annexation” of Crimea by Russia and military intervention by it in eastern Ukraine.
Clause five of the 138 clauses in the communiqué reads:
Russia’s aggressive actions, including provocative military activities in the periphery of NATO territory and its demonstrated willingness to attain political goals by the threat and use of force, are a source of regional instability, fundamentally challenge the Alliance, have damaged Euro-Atlantic security, and threaten our long-standing goal of a Europe whole, free, and at peace.
Clause ten details the alleged transgressions of Russia:
Russia’s destabilising actions and policies include: the ongoing illegal and illegitimate annexation of Crimea, which we do not and will not recognise and which we call on Russia to reverse; the violation of sovereign borders by force; the deliberate destabilisation of eastern Ukraine; large-scale snap exercises contrary to the spirit of the Vienna Document, and provocative military activities near NATO borders, including in the Baltic and Black Sea regions and the Eastern Mediterranean; its irresponsible and aggressive nuclear rhetoric, military concept and underlying posture; and its repeated violations of NATO Allied airspace. In addition, Russia’s military intervention, significant military presence and support for the regime in Syria, and its use of its military presence in the Black Sea to project power into the Eastern Mediterranean have posed further risks and challenges for the security of Allies and others.
Ottawa announced at the summit it will send hundreds of additional soldiers to eastern Europe to join the latest NATO provocation: it will lead one of the four, new, proto-combat brigades being established by NATO in countries bordering Russia. Canada will land some 450 troops in Latvia.
Ottawa is also re-equipping its entire army, including its soon-to-be Latvia force on the Russian border, with anti-tank missiles.
Canada’s voice has been one of the loudest amidst NATO’s anti-Russia rhetoric as first the Conservatives, now the Liberals pander to the extremist minority among the estimated 1.2 million Canadians of Ukrainian origin. That pandering was on full display in Ukraine when Prime Minister Justin Trudeau paid a visit to the country immediately following the NATO summit.
Ongoing intervention in Ukraine
The Latvia intervention adds to Canada’s existing military presence in Ukraine. Since last year, Canadian, British and U.S. soldiers began an intervention into the country consisting, in the first instance, of training the Ukrainian army and extremist paramilitaries at the so-called International Peacekeeping and Security Center in western Ukraine. Canada has 200 troops in the country.
The military training is designed to improve Ukraine’s capacity to wage the civil war it launched against the populations of the Donbass region in the east of the country in April 2014. There, the large majority of the population rejected a violent seizure of power by a right-wing coalition of conservatives, extreme-rightists and neo-Nazis in February 2014. When the new regime in Kyiv sent soldiers and extremist paramilitaries to eastern Ukraine to quash civil resistance against the ‘Maidan coup’, self-defense forces were hastily thrown up and military conflict ensued.
Prime Minister Trudeau visited the military training center on July 11. His media entourage reported a disturbing insight into what the foreign soldiers are up to there. A July 13 article by the Canadian Press‘ Lee Berthiaume wrote:
Trudeau flew into Lviv in western Ukraine before driving to a nearby military base for a first-hand look at the work of 200 Canadian soldiers who have been training the Ukrainian army since last summer.
From a distance, Trudeau, his son Xavier and defence chief Gen. Jonathan Vance watched through binoculars as a Soviet-era armoured personnel carrier led a group of Canadian and Ukrainian soldiers toward a wooden building. The air shook as the vehicle’s cannon fired several bursts in quick succession.
The troops then moved away from the vehicle and spread out in a line facing the building. Four Canadians followed close behind as the eight Ukrainians slowly closed on the building while firing their rifles before placing an explosive inside and setting it off.
The exercise was the type of attack those Ukrainian soldiers could soon be conducting on their own in the east of their country, where the army has been fighting Russian-backed separatists for more than two years.
Trudeau’s son Xavier is nine years old. It’s not known what the “building” in the training exercise represents in real life. Ukraine’s ‘Anti-Terrorist Operation’ in the east heavily targets residential neighbourhoods. In addition to houses and apartment buildings, schools, daycare centers and even medical centers have been struck by Ukrainian tank and other artillery shelling. The ongoing reports of the Donetsk International News Agency document the havoc. (Latest report, dated July 11, is here).
Effective anti-aircraft defense on the rebel side is the only reason why Ukraine has not employed fighter aircraft against its nominal citizens, as NATO-member Turkey is doing in its civil war against the Kurdish population in the east of that country.
Earlier the same day, Trudeau addressed Canadian soldiers about their work in Ukraine. He said, “It has been a long time since Canada had to defend our valour and defend our territory. But we need to continue to work with those who are fighting for democracy and their territorial integrity.”
Trudeau voiced the usual NATO stories about Russia’s actions in the region since the Maidan coup. “Russia has not been a positive partner,” he told his hosts in Ukraine, speaking of the situation in eastern Ukraine. “It has not been moving appropriately on things like ceasefires and international observers.”
While in Ukraine, Trudeau also signed a “free trade” agreement with Ukraine. The agreement is unlikely to change much in the small amount of trade between the two countries. According to the Canadian government, Canada exported some $210 million in goods to Ukraine in 2015, including pharmaceuticals, fish and seafood and coking coal. Ukraine sent to Canada some $67 million the same year, including fertilizers, iron and steel and anthracite coal.
Meanwhile, Canadian Foreign Affairs Minister Stéphane Dion trundled off to Latvia following the Warsaw summit to voice his own harsh language. He told a press conference in Riga, “A neighboring country [Russia] chooses to throw its weight around and cause trouble and international instability. Latvia and Canada, together with our NATO allies, answer the call both for strong deterrence and strong dialogue [sic].
“We will stay strong as long as the relationship has not been changed for something positive – as long as Russia is a troublemaker in the region we need to be strong together and Canada will be part of it.”
Dion said Ukraine, too, has been “confronted directly with aggression from our shared neighbour.”
What about the Minsk-2 ceasefire?
As with its NATO partners, Canada’s government tells lies when it comes to the ongoing violations by Kyiv of the ceasefire agreement for eastern Ukraine that was signed in Belarus on February 12, 2015.
Ukraine has failed to live up to all of the 13 clauses of Minsk-2. This was noted (though understated) in the aforementioned Canadian Press report when it said, “[Trudeau] called Russia’s recent actions in the region “illegitimate” and “illegal”, and voiced strong support for NATO members in Eastern Europe as well as Ukraine, despite rampant corruption in Ukraine and its failure to implement parts [sic] of a peace deal with Russia and the rebels.”
Ukraine continues its military attacks against Donetsk and Lugansk (the two former provinces of Ukraine which make up the historic region called Donbass). It does not recognize the elected authorities of the people’s republics of Donetsk and Lugansk, and so no progress has been made on a political settlement, including a regional election. Prisoner exchanges have been very partial. And so on. (Text of Minsk-2 ceasefire here.)
Canada, the U.S. and the rest of NATO have nothing to say about Ukraine’s dereliction of duty with the ceasefire. On the contrary, they accuse Russia of failing to live up to the agreement, even though Russia, with France and Germany, is but a guarantor, not a signator, of the agreement. As the Russian government has patiently explained for the past 18 months, only the Ukrainian government and the rebel side against which it is fighting can and should decide what happens on Ukrainian soil.
The criticism of Russia by Canada is carefully orchestrated to shield the true state of affairs. In 2014, following the Maidan coup, Russia stood by the people in Crimea and then in Donbass who rose up to oppose the coup. This is what has infuriated the NATO countries. According to their script, Russia is supposed to act like the other countries of the region and meekly accept NATO diktats. In this case, Russia was supposed to stand aside and allow an illegal, right-wing regime in Kyiv to wage a violent campaign against civil dissent opposing the new regime’s pro-Europe, anti-Russia and pro-austerity course to proceed. Oh, and Russia was supposed to meekly give up its historic, centuries old naval base in Crimea and turn the keys over to NATO.
The NATO powers are not used to defiance. They don’t like the “bad” example that Russia’s defiance sets for people or countries in Europe who may wish to battle EU-dictated austerity and violations of national sovereignty, as, for example, the people in Greece and, more recently, in Britain are trying to do.
The other large, longstanding factor at play in eastern Europe is the historic, U.S.-led drive by NATO to weaken and dismantle first the Soviet Union and now the Russia Federation. Events in Ukraine and Crimea have given the U.S., its allies and pliant media new propaganda ammunition to bamboozle world opinion and renew the post-WW2, not-so-cold-anymore war.
Media and Parliamentary opposition in Canada join the pro-war chorus
The obfuscation over Minsk-2 and the dangerous, ‘new cold war’ backdrop rely on a compliant mainstream media to dissuade questioning if not opposition by ordinary citizens. As in the U.S. and Europe, mainstream media in Canada does little or nothing to accurately inform the public of the true state of affairs in Ukraine and Crimea and the broader region. Instead, it is increasingly parroting whatever line emanates from NATO country capitals while adding its own unique stamp to the mix.
The national daily Globe and Mail editorialized on July 13 in favour of the Liberal’s latest moves. It wrote, ” The risk of a new cold war, let alone a third world war in Eastern Europe, is small, but Russia’s illegal annexation of Crimea, and its thinly disguised subversion of order in eastern Ukraine, shows how willing President Vladimir Putin is to make serious mischief…
“The risk of leaving a whole set of countries [the Baltic region] virtually undefended would be most unacceptable.”
The same compliance goes for Canadian Parliamentarians. A case in point is an op-ed commentary by Thomas Mulcair published on July 12 in the Toronto Star, Canada’s largest-circulation daily newspaper.
Mulcair is the leader of Canada’s social democratic party, the New Democratic Party, the third largest party in Parliament. He writes in the Star, “There can be no doubt Russia poses a significant threat to the people of Eastern Europe. In March, the United Nations estimated that at least 9,160 civilians have died in Ukraine since Russia’s annexation of Crimea in 2014.” Note the writer’s named starting date of the tragic deaths of thousands in eastern Ukraine: not the launching of Ukraine’s civil war (‘Anti-Terrorist Operation’) in April-May 2014 but the Crimea referendum in March.
Mulcair writes further, “Russian President Vladimir Putin has shown himself to be a volatile leader, not above searching for any pretext to escalate into violence.”
The op-ed expresses some unease with the decision of Canada to join and head up one of NATO’s projected combat brigades. Parliament has not been consulted, Mulcair complains. And he worries, “If military buildup becomes our only way of communicating with Russians, there is a real risk that falling into a permanent deterrence mode will lead to escalation and the re-emergence of a dangerous Cold War-style deadlock.”
But the headline to the commentary summarizes the essence. It reads, ‘Military-only response to Russia is dangerous’. In other words, a military posture against Russia is needed, yes, and so are additional measures. To wit, Mulcair says Canada should extend its sanctions against Russia’s economy. He urges adoption of a version of the ‘Magnitsky Act’ which was adopted in the United States in 2012 and which extended the freezing of assets and banning of travel by Russian political and business leaders. The law is named after Sergei Magnitsky, a Russian accountant working in the financial industry who died while in prison in Russia in 2009.
Evidently, Mulcair has not viewed the new documentary film exposing the propaganda campaign behind the U.S. law. The film is titled ‘The Magnitsky Act. Behind the Scenes’. The Russian filmmaker began his documentary quest by presenting the accepted story of Magnitsky as a fighter against endemic corruption and favouritism in the Russian government. But along the way, he discovered a very different view of events in which the Russian government happened to be battling, not coddling, corruption, in this case by going after a set of foreign and Russian businessmen who had hired Magnitsky to manage their books.
Mulcair concludes his commentary with a repeat that it is “the Russian threat” which is at fault for escalating tensions in eastern Europe and that more than military means alone are needed to meet the “threat”.
Such is the state of official political opposition in Canada today on the Ukraine file, where ‘opposition member of Parliament’ means ‘compliant member of Parliament’.
Oppose war and militarism
Since last year’s election in Canada, the language coming out of Ottawa with respect to Russia has shifted ever so slightly. Stéphane Dion has been speaking of the need for “dialogue” with Russia. But nothing with respect to policy has changed. Canada is stepping up its military intervention in Ukraine and eastern Europe. It maintains the U.S. and EU-led sanctions targeting Russia’s political leaders and business men and women. It still calls Crimea’s referendum vote in 2014 to rejoin the Russia Federation a Russian “annexation”. It still accuses Russia of conducting a military intervention into eastern Ukraine.
The larger danger in all of NATO’s war posturing is the threat of nuclear war. Three of the countries ganging up against Russia are nuclear powers–the United States, France and Britain. Each of them are busily renewing and improving their nuclear arsenals, led by the estimated trillion dollars which the U.S. is slated to spend on new nuclear arms technologies, which it hopes might provide it with a cherished, first-strike nuclear capacity.
Progressive social and political forces in Canada that should be opposing the war posturing in eastern Europe have been largely silent. That’s because they have dug themselves into a hole during the past two and a half years by ignoring events in and around the Maidan coup in Ukraine or, worse, by buying into the NATO rhetoric of ‘aggressive Russia’ and ‘imperialist Russia’. Ignorance and prejudice about Russia, rather than factual analysis, rules the day.
As Canadians begin to rebuild an antiwar movement out of the ashes of the old, three key demands should come to the fore. One is to end the sanctions, threats and outright attacks by NATO and Ukraine against Russia, Crimea and eastern Ukraine. Two is to demand the government in Kyiv implement the terms of the ceasefire agreement it signed in Minsk in February 2015.
Thirdly and fourthly, it is high time to renew two historic demands of the peace and antiwar movements over the decades which, sadly, have a new urgency:
Abolish nuclear weapons!
Canada out of the NATO alliance!
 On March 16, 2014, the people of Crimea voted overwhelmingly to secede from Ukraine and rejoin the Russian Federation. The vote was conducted by the elected, autonomous assembly of Crimea. The March 2014 referendum was prompted by the violent overthrow one month earlier of the elected president of Ukraine. Victor Yanukovych had received the large majority of votes in Crimea in Ukraine’s 2010 presidential election.
Crimea was annexed to then-Soviet Ukraine in 1954 by a decision of the government of the USSR in order to facilitate post-WW2 reconstruction. But the Crimean people were given no vote on the matter.
 Clause ten of the NATO communiqué introduces a novel concept into international diplomacy: not only do nation states and countries (or parts thereof) have “borders”; apparently, self-proclaimed military alliances have borders, too. Clause ten of the NATO communiqué refers to “NATO borders [sic], including in the Baltic and Black Sea regions and the Eastern Mediterranean”.
 With one exception–the Toronto Star–the entirety of Canada’s print mainstream media supported the re-election of Stephen Harper’s Conservatives in the October 19, 2015 election.