Canada can and should be more engaged in de-escalation efforts on the Ukrainian border where Russia is gathering troops but needs to focus on its diplomatic forces, national security experts say.
In a CTV Question Period interview that aired Sunday, Richard Fadden, former director of CSIS and national security adviser to Prime Minister Justin Trudeau, said that included calling for Russian aggression and threatening new sanctions, in union with the NATO allies.
“We should be out there beating the bushes with our allies arguing, maybe sending more troops on a rotational basis, making sure the sanctions that are now in place are fully respected, advocating for greater sanctions , but I don’t think we can do much on our own,” he said.
“One good thing that comes out of what Putin has done is he’s brought NATO together again, and I think we should build on that.”
Canadian officials are closely monitoring the situation on Ukraine’s eastern border, where Russia has sent 100,000 troops, raising concerns about the possibility of an invasion.
Trudeau spoke with Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskyy this week about military buildup, ahead of a key meeting in Brussels between the 30-nation NATO alliance and Russia.
Zelensky reiterated that the West must be ready to impose new sanctions against Russia if the situation were to escalate.
Russia has called on NATO to guarantee that it will not expand eastward into Ukraine, a request the alliance and Ukraine itself flatly reject.
On Wednesday, Trudeau told reporters that Canada condemns Russian aggression and the troop buildup and stands ready to proceed with “meaningful” consequences if necessary.
Fadden said he does not believe Russian President Vladimir Putin is seeking full control of Ukraine.
“I think it goes back to when the Soviet Union controlled without owning a bunch of Eastern European countries. I don’t think he wants to invade Ukraine and take it over, I think that he wants to find a way to ensure some control without going through a full-scale war,” he said.
Peter MacKay, former minister of defense and foreign affairs, told CTV’s Question Period that Canada could do more diplomatically, noting that the government had been “a bit absent” from the conversation until here.
“[U.S.] President Biden has gone around and called on countries seeking their support. We did not participate in those discussions,” he said.
“I would say what Russia fears the most and Putin doesn’t want to see is not NATO inclusion, but a resilient, independent, sovereign, corruption-free Ukraine – and that’s what we should be helping to do, is to build resilience and build their capacity within governance. This is one of the [areas] where Canada can add value.
As part of Operation UNIFIER, Canada sends a group of approximately 200 Canadian Armed Forces members to Ukraine every six months.
Scheduled to end in March 2022, the objective of the operation is to assist in the training of security forces to build capacity and capabilities.
The government also sent money through international organizations to fund humanitarian efforts and provided development assistance to the country, focused on strengthening electoral, judicial, anti-corruption, health and social policies.
Fadden said discussions about Canada’s role in Ukraine reinforce the need for a foreign security policy.
“We need a holistic and comprehensive foreign policy so that we can allocate military, diplomatic and economic tools. Right now I think there’s a little too much improvisation,” he said.
With a file from The Canadian Press.