A coalition of Canadian peace groups and civil society organizations is calling on the federal government to de-escalate any potential conflict between Russia and NATO over Ukraine.

  • Tamara Lorincz, a member of the Canadian Voice of Women for Peace and a fellow with the Canadian Foreign Policy Institute (CFPI), told The Maple that the coalition believes many Canadians oppose a military response to the crisis.

“We want demilitarization and de-escalation of this current crisis,” said Lorincz.

  • CFPI’s open statement, published on Jan. 18, includes calls for the Trudeau government to end arms sales and military training in Ukraine, oppose any moves towards that country’s membership in NATO, withdraw all Canadian forces from Eastern Europe, repeal sanctions on Russia, and to re-allocate military funds into fostering non-violent conflict mediation.

CFPI describes itself as a non-partisan organization that seeks to “inform people living in Canada about the country’s diplomatic, aid, intelligence, trade and military policies abroad.”

  • The group’s statement was published three days before Global Affairs Minister Melanie Joly discussed “severe consequences and costs of any further violation of Ukraine’s territorial integrity.” Defence Minister Anita Anand, meanwhile, blamed “Russia’s ongoing aggressive and destabilizing actions” in a call with her Ukrainian counterpart last week.

Russian President Vladimir Putin has positioned 100,000 troops in areas close to the Ukrainian border, but Putin’s Deputy Foreign Minister Sergei Ryabkov declared "There are no plans or intentions to attack Ukraine” after talks with U.S. officials earlier this month. However, speculation about a coming conflict remains.

  • Meanwhile, Canada recently provided a $120 million loan to the Ukrainian government, which Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky hailed last week as an example of a “special partnership" between the two countries.

On Monday, The Globe and Mail reported that NATO was putting military forces on standby in Eastern Europe, a move denounced by Russia as escalating the crisis.

  • The U.S. mounted tensions further by announcing that 8,500 American troops are ready to be deployed at short notice. Canada, meanwhile, is currently planning to build an ammunition factory in Ukraine.

Ukraine is not currently a NATO member, and Russia has repeatedly insisted that the country and Georgia (which both neighbour Russia) should not be allowed to join the military alliance, and that NATO forces be pulled back from countries in Eastern Europe. But the U.S. insists those requests are non-starters.

  • Glenn Michalchuk, a member of the Association of United Ukrainian Canadians Winnipeg Council and Peace Alliance Winnipeg, told The Maple that Minister Joly’s comments are a worrying sign that Canada is pushing ahead for a confrontation with Russia.

“This escalation of the situation, it's been going on for years in terms of this continuing refusal to allow the problems in Ukraine to be sorted out internally,” said Michalchuk.

  • “Joly could have said instead, ‘I stand for peace and diplomacy and disarmament and a political solution to the crisis,’” said Lorincz of the minister’s recent comments, noting that Joly did not meet with her Russian counterparts while she was in Europe.

On Sunday, Russia’s ambassador to Canada said Joly has an “open invitation” to meet with officials in Moscow.

  • “This Ukraine crisis was very much instigated by NATO, and it should cause Canadians to rethink our membership in this alliance,” Lorincz added. In 2014, the U.S. and Canada supported the armed overthrow of a democratically elected pro-Russian government in Kyiv, an uprising viewed by many as an illegal coup.

Some groups, like the Ukrainian Canadian Congress (UCC), have called on Canada to impose harsher sanctions against Russia and to provide Ukraine with weapons. UCC also wants Ukraine to be given a Membership Action Plan to join NATO.

  • However, Michalchuk, who is of Ukrainian descent, said the UCC does not speak for all Ukrainian-Canadians, and that the sections of Ukrainian community in Canada he works with do not support military intervention.

“The West bears a lot of responsibility in terms of its efforts to destabilize Ukraine and prevent a real solution to the issues within Ukraine,” Michalchuk added, noting that NATO has expanded into Eastern Europe for two decades despite opposition from Russia.

  • In 2008, then-prime minister Stephen Harper expressed "strong support" for Ukraine's moves to join NATO. "I call upon our NATO partners to agree that we should keep Ukraine moving forward toward full membership in the alliance," said Harper at the time.

As well, the Canadian Armed Forces have been training Ukrainian military forces through operation UNIFIER since 2015, while the airforce has deployed CF-18s to engage in "air policing" patrols at the edges of Russian airspace since 2014.

  • Michalchuk said Canada has interests in accessing Ukraine’s natural resource wealth, which resulted in the Canada-Ukraine Free Trade Agreement (CUFTA) being signed in 2016.

The Global Affairs Canada website states that part of CUFTA’s purpose is “generating commercial benefits for Canadian businesses.”

Back in October, the Ottawa Citizen reported that a U.S. study found that extremists with a far-right group in Ukraine’s military called “Centuria” had bragged about receiving training from the CAF.

  • “The Ukrainian military’s failure to check Centuria activities suggests a level of tolerance on its part for the apparent proliferation of far-right ideology and influence within the Armed Forces of Ukraine,” the study warned.

As well, in July 2018, Canadian officials met with and were briefed by leaders of the Azov Battalion, a neo-Nazi unit that was officially incorporated into the Ukrainian National Guard in 2014, despite the officials being warned about the group’s far-right ideology.

  • “The Canadian government has, through its Canadian Armed Forces that are in Ukraine, actually assisted in the training of these organizations,” said Michalchuk. “That to me is something that Canadians should be ashamed of, and should demand an accounting for given that [Canada] talks so much about the question of human rights and democracy.”

Lorincz said another concerning aspect of any potential conflict with Russia is the fact that both Russia and the NATO alliance are armed with nuclear weapons.

  • “[We are risking] an existential crisis that is totally unacceptable,” said Lorincz. “We've got to do everything to prevent further escalation.”

“Instead of mutually-assured deterrence, we need mutually-assured prosperity,” she added.

Editor's note, Jan. 29, 2022: This newsletter has been updated to clarify that in 2014 the Azov Battalion was formally incorporated into the Ukrainian National Guard.

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