OTTAWA – With as many as 175,000 Russian troops reportedly approaching Ukraine’s borders, the head of the Ukrainian World Congress (UWC) fears that Russian President Vladimir Putin has “created the environment for a full invasion of Ukraine.”
“If 2014 didn’t happen, I would be saying this is just saber-rattling,” said UWC president Paul Grod about Russia’s seizure of Crimea seven years ago and the ensuing Russo-Ukrainian War playing out in the Donbas region of eastern Ukraine.
He believes that Putin considers himself a “a want-to-be czar who wants his name in history along with Peter the Great and Catherine the Great and who wants to be considered the person who rebuilt the Russian empire – a point he said the Russian president amplified in an essay he wrote “on the historical unity of Russians and Ukrainians” that was released in July.
In it, Putin outlined an extensive history of Kyivan Rus’ to make the claim that Russians and Ukrainians are “one people” and that the “true sovereignty of Ukraine is possible only in partnership with Russia.”
Grod likens Putin’s view of Ukraine “as a non-nation” to that of Joseph Stalin under whose watch at least five million Ukrainians perished during the Holodomor nine decades ago. While Stalin perpetrated “genocide” against Ukrainians, Putin is orchestrating “ethnocide” against them, according to Grod, who in 2014 – as then-president of the Ukrainian Canadian Congress – became one of 13 Canadians barred from entering Russia in response to Canadian sanctions imposed in retaliation of the annexation of Crimea.
“This past summer, we had to completely sever ties with the Ukrainian community in Russia for one fundamental reason,” he said. “The Ukrainian World Congress was not only banned, but any interaction with our leadership by anyone in Russia was deemed to be a criminal offence.”
Most notably, Serhii Vynnyk, a Ukrainian lawyer in Omsk, Russia who served as regional vice-president of the UWC, has been detained and faces prosecution, according to Mr. Grod.
Last month, the European Court of Human Rights, which is based in Strasbourg, France, agreed to hear an application by the UWC against Russia.
The congress contends that a July 2019 decision by the Russian Federation’s Office of the Prosecutor General to declare the UWC’s activities on Russian territory as “undesirable” violates several articles of Europe’s Convention for the Protection of Human Rights and Fundamental Freedoms, including freedom of assembly and association, and the limitation on restricting rights.
“All Ukrainian schools have been shut down in Russia,” said Grod, a former corporate lawyer and investment banker, who now serves as president and chief executive officer of Canadian-based Rodan Energy Solutions.
The urgency, however, is that Ukraine remain independent of Russian control.
The UWC, which represents over 20 million Ukrainians in the diaspora, has called on countries to impose further sanctions against Russia to curb any further aggression against Ukraine, and provide more military equipment and defensive weapons to Ukraine.
In a recent op-ed in the Toronto Star, Ukrainian Canadian Congress president Alexandra Chyczij, who also serves as a regional vice-president with the UWC, called on Canada to extend its Operation UNIFIER military mission to Ukraine, which is scheduled to end in March, and increase the number of Canadian Armed Forces personnel deployed to Ukraine from the current 200 members sent there every six months.
However, during a recent visit to Kyiv, the head of Canada’s military told The Globe and Mail that there are no plans to send more Canadian troops to Ukraine.
“We’ve got to be very careful about the balance between deterrence and escalation, and what is the perception from the other side as well. That’s where diplomacy absolutely has to lead in a case like this,” said Gen. Wayne Eyre, chief of Canada’s defense staff.
In an email to the Kyiv Post, a spokesman for Canadian Defense Minister Anita Anand said:
“In doing so, Canada will consistently support NATO [North Atlantic Treaty Organization] operations to deter against any aggressive actions in the region,” said Daniel Minden. “Currently, Canada is leading the multinational Enhanced Forward Presence battlegroup in Latvia, commanding the NATO Standing Maritime Group 1, and participating in the NATO Enhanced Air Policing mission in Romania.”
But Grod expects more from his home country.
“Unfortunately, from a foreign-policy perspective, Canada continues to follow the American lead. Canada has not demonstrated any leadership on the international stage on this issue,” he said.
Grod said that direction would include creating a peacekeeping force, either through NATO or involving Ukraine’s “Anglo-Saxon allies” Canada, the United States, and the United Kingdom to proceed on their own, as also called for by Ukrainian Defense Minister Oleksii Reznikov.
“Canada could provide a leadership role by sending a peacekeeping mission to the frontlines of Ukraine,” said Grod. “That would be something that would put Prime Minister Justin Trudeau and his government in the history books by putting Canada out there” in defending Ukraine.
On Sunday, following their meeting in Liverpool, foreign ministers from the Group of Seven (G7) countries Canada, the U.S., the U.K. France, Germany, Italy and Japan, along with the high representative of the European Union issued a statement calling on Russia to “de-escalate, pursue diplomatic channels, and abide by its international commitments on transparency of military activities as [U.S.] President [Joe] Biden did in his call with President Putin on 7 December.”
“Any use of force to change borders is strictly prohibited under international law. Russia should be in no doubt that further military aggression against Ukraine would have massive consequences and severe cost in response.”
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