Skip to main content
opinion

Simon Miles is assistant professor in the Sanford School of Public Policy at Duke University in North Carolina.

On Saturday, Justin Trudeau stood in front of a Ukrainian church inside the Canadian Museum of History and announced an additional $100-million in humanitarian aid for Ukraine in response to Russia’s invasion. The Prime Minister spoke with commendable clarity, in the aftermath of atrocities allegedly perpetrated by the Russian military in the city of Bucha, about Ukraine’s efforts being a moral struggle, not just a military one.

But the next time he delivers a speech on the war in Ukraine, Mr. Trudeau should do so from Ukraine itself.

Vladimir Putin launched his renewed invasion of Ukraine in late February based on a host of misconceptions. He overestimated his military’s competence and preparedness, and underestimated Ukraine’s willingness to fight. He misjudged the resolve of Ukraine’s supporters, assuming that NATO and the European Union were decadent, ossified relics that would do nothing to hurt their bottom line in the name of supporting Kyiv; they have instead imposed wave after wave of sanctions. And recent visits to Kyiv by European Commission President Ursula von der Leyen and British Prime Minister Boris Johnson to meet with Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky have illustrated Western resolve in a very public way.

This is a war being fought in multiple domains. Primarily, this is playing out on the land and in the skies above Ukraine; as the fight shifts to the east of the country after his armies’ failures, Mr. Putin’s crypto-imperial fantasies continue to pose a threat to Canada’s national interest, which is a peaceful and prosperous Europe. But there is also a worldwide information campaign being fought on the airwaves and in cyberspace – and that is a battle in which Canada can help Ukraine and Mr. Zelensky press their advantage.

If Mr. Trudeau were to follow Ms. von der Leyen and Mr. Johnson in meeting with Mr. Zelensky in Kyiv, it would demonstrate Canada’s commitment to supporting Ukraine as it fights to maintain its sovereignty in the face of Russia’s onslaught, while also reminding Canadians why Mr. Putin remains a foe worth actively opposing. Mr. Trudeau physically standing by Mr. Zelensky, not long after satellite imagery and intercepted communications seemed to confirm Russian war crimes in Bucha, would show the world that Ukraine’s partners are uncowed and united with resolve in the face of Russian belligerence.

The Canadian government’s latest provision of humanitarian aid for the millions of Ukrainians who have been forced from their homes is laudable. But Ottawa would do well to remember that the humanitarian crisis is a symptom of Mr. Putin’s war; mitigating its effects is a noble cause, but a definitive solution can only be had by helping Ukraine to bring the conflict to a close as soon as possible.

As Mr. Zelensky calls again for heavy military equipment to fight the conventional armour- and artillery-intensive battles that are likely to characterize this phase of the war in the Donbas, Mr. Trudeau has an opportunity to make the most of the Russian military’s current operational pause to surge as much military aid to Ukraine as possible.

Canada’s Prime Minister can travel light (compared with, for example, the U.S. President, who routinely travels with no fewer than two limousines and a retinue of hundreds), and doing so would send a clear message of solidarity. If, as Ukraine’s Deputy Foreign Minister Emine Dzhaparova has said, Mr. Zelensky speaks with Mr. Trudeau by phone “even more often than he sees his family,” then the Prime Minister ought to know that Ottawa’s goal should not be merely to help Kyiv survive this war, but to win it.

To that end, Mr. Trudeau should not arrive empty-handed. Ottawa should use the trip to provide military aid directly from its own stockpiles, to provide funds to backfill NATO partners’ equipment contributions to Ukraine and to send Canadian investigators to the sites of alleged Russian attacks on civilians. Humanitarian assistance need not stop at aiding displaced Ukrainians and resettling them in Canada; it should also include reconstruction aid for those who are, in ever increasing numbers, returning to their homes in Ukraine.

Such a trip to Ukraine would be largely symbolic. But symbols matter in international politics, and Mr. Trudeau being seen standing shoulder-to-shoulder with his Ukrainian counterpart would put pressure on other leaders, including in Washington, to demonstrate their support in a similar way. That is exactly the type of symbol, along with continued lethal military aid, which will remind Ukrainians of the breadth of support for their struggle – and remind Mr. Putin of the scale of his miscalculation.

If, as Mr. Trudeau promised in 2015, Canada really is “back” on the world stage, then he really ought to get going.

Follow related authors and topics

Authors and topics you follow will be added to your personal news feed in Following.

Interact with The Globe