Written by Alex Cosh
Foreign policy experts are pushing back against the Canadian Ambassador to Ukraine’s recent claim that nothing could have prevented Vladimir Putin’s illegal invasion of Ukraine.
In an interview with CBC News’ Rosemary Barton last Sunday, Larisa Galadza, who returned to the Ukrainian capital of Kyiv this month after the Canadian embassy was evacuated ahead of the invasion in February, said:
“I don’t think there was anyone who could stop Putin doing what Putin did, given the frame of mind that we all expect him to be in. He wasn’t believing history. He wasn’t logical. He wasn’t rational. He isn’t rational, so I don’t know how one prevents that.”
Barton did not press Galadza on those claims, and instead asked about how the ambassador felt when the Canadian flag was raised again over the embassy in Kyiv last week.
Ivan Katchanovski, a political science professor with expertise on Ukraine and Russia at the University of Ottawa, told The Maple that Galadza’s claims are not supported by evidence or scholarship.
“[The war] could have been avoided and prevented,” Katchanovski explained. Specifically, an agreement in which Ukraine promised to remain a neutral country and the fulfilment of the Minsk accords could have stopped Putin’s invasion, he said.
The Minsk accords were two agreements, the first signed in 2014 and the second in 2015, that were established in an effort to end fighting in the Donbas region between Ukrainian forces and Russian separatists.
The agreements granted self-governing rights to areas of the Donbas region that were held by the separatists, among other pledges.
The 2014 agreement broke down and failed to stop the fighting. The updated agreement in 2015 was never properly implemented, and ceasefire violations from both sides continued.
According to data from the Organization for Security and Co-operation in Europe, which monitors the conflict, there were more than 93,000 ceasefire violations on both sides and 16 civilian deaths caused by the fighting in the Donbas region in 2021.
Heavy concentrations of explosions caused by shells fired by multi-launch rocket systems, artillery, mortars and tanks landed in areas held by separatists, where ethnic Russians constitute the largest minority group.
According to the UN Human Rights Commissioner, 81 per cent of the 381 civilian casualties caused by the fighting from 2018 to 2021 were in separatist-held areas.
Western countries have been criticized for not pressuring Ukraine to uphold its side of the Minsk agreement.
Katchanovski suggested that before Putin’s invasion, a successful peace agreement could have allowed for Ukraine to eventually join the European Union (EU) in exchange for neutrality.
EU integration was a key demand of the Western-backed 2014 uprising that overthrew Kyiv’s pro-Russia government. The violent uprising and its fallout prompted Russia’s annexation of Crimea the same year.
However, seeking a peace deal with Russia, “was not a policy of the United States, which has a very strong influence on Ukrainian politics and on [Ukrainian President Volodymr] Zelenskyy in particular,” Katchanovski explained.
He said Ukraine is a “U.S. client state.”
“U.S. and Ukrainian policy are very closely aligned on almost all the major issues, and the U.S. has very strong influence on appointments of top government officials after the Western-supported violent overthrow of the government in 2014."
This means the U.S. also has the power to push for the proper implementation of a peace agreement, Katchanovski said.
Another issue underscoring the current conflict has been concerns about moves by Ukraine to join NATO, an anti-Russian Western military alliance that was formed during the Cold War.
After the fall of the Soviet Union in 1991, the military alliance granted membership to 14 states in Eastern Europe over the proceeding three decades, despite strong objections from Russia, which views NATO as a threat.
At the Bucharest NATO summit in 2008, NATO heads of state declared that they welcomed “Ukraine’s and Georgia’s Euro-Atlantic aspirations for membership in NATO.” Both of those countries neighbour Russia.
Also in 2008, Canadian prime minister Stephen Harper announced “Canada's strong support for Ukraine to move towards membership in the NATO alliance.”
In the period leading up to Putin's invasion, there was little immediate prospect of Ukraine formally joining NATO, said Katchanovski.
However, he added, Western states continued to express support for such a move and indicated that it might happen in the future, a prospect that Putin exaggerated for political reasons.
“There was no justification for [Putin’s] invasion for this reason, but at the same time, this does not mean that NATO expansion or using Ukraine as a military pull against Russia was a total non-issue,” said Katchanovski.
Following Russia’s invasion, Zelenskyy himself conceded in March that Ukraine will not join NATO.
Attempts to dismiss Putin as “irrational,” said Katchanovski, are typical of wartime propaganda. He noted that similar rhetoric was used to describe former Iraqi president Saddam Hussein in the run-up to the U.S.-led invasion of that country.
“This is nothing new,” said Katchanovski. However, he noted, viewing Putin as a rational actor does not mean the Russian president's actions are justifiable or that he didn’t make a grave miscalculation about his prospects for a speedy victory in Ukraine.
Ending the invasion, said Katchanovski, is currently a distant prospect.
Earlier this month, Ukrayinska Pravda reported that British Prime Minister Boris Johnson had pressured Zelenskyy to ditch peace negotiations with Russia, despite tenuous progress that had been made in such talks.
Katchanovski said there was a “real possibility” that a deal could have been reached, but that it would not be accepted by Western countries, who are using Ukraine as a proxy war against Russia.
“This now means that such a real possibility of a peaceful deal has now become much more distant,” he noted. “The interests of the West are not to have any peace deal unless Russia basically capitulates, which is not very likely.”
Tamara Lorincz, a Ph.D. student in global governance at Wilfrid Laurier University and a fellow at the Canadian Foreign Policy Institute, agrees that the war in Ukraine could have been prevented.
She said Canada and its allies escalated the conflict instead of pushing for a diplomatic solution, and regards NATO’s actions as a major factor in stoking the danger of war.
“We see NATO provoking this war over many years,” Lorincz told The Maple, citing the Bucharest summit declaration, and the U.S. and Canada’s support for the 2014 uprising, which she said amounted to a coup that plunged the country into civil war.
Canada and the U.S. should also have supported the implementation of the Minsk agreements, Lorincz said. She noted that the second Minsk agreement called for the “Pullout of all foreign armed formations, military equipment, and also mercenaries from the territory of Ukraine.”
However, said Lorincz, Canada has undermined that agreement through Operation UNIFIER, a military mission in which hundreds of Canadian troops, and “non-lethal” military equipment, have been deployed in Ukraine to train that country’s security forces, including members of the neo-Nazi Azov Battalion.
In addition, Canada moved a warship into the Black Sea in January, and has conducted military “enhanced Air Policing” near Russia’s borders in Eastern Europe since 2014. Hundreds of Canadian soldiers are also stationed as part of a “Battle Group” in Latvia.
In 2017, Canada placed Ukraine on its list of approved arms-export countries, allowing Canadian manufacturers to sell weapons and ammunition to “government and approved end-users in that country.”
In 2020, Canada sold $350,000 worth of military goods to Ukraine, including automatic weapons, ammunition, electronic equipment, imaging technology and software.
“In so many ways Canada has provoked this conflict in Ukraine,” said Lorincz. “Canada wants this war. This is very much a NATO proxy war.”
“The CBC is lying,” she added, citing the broadcaster’s uncritical reporting of Galadza’s comments. “It's telling lies and half truths about what's going on.”