Paul Grod is President of the Ukrainian Canadian Congress
Ukrainian President Petro Poroshenko is in Canada today for an official visit. He comes to Canada at a time when his own country faces down a revanchist Russia that seeks to re-establish its empire. After the illegal invasion and annexation of Crimea in March, Russian troops have now invaded southeastern Ukraine. Western democracies have been unequivocal in their condemnation of Vladimir Putin's aggression, but they have thus far been unwilling to take the necessary measures to stop him. This has sent Mr. Putin a dangerous signal – that his behavior, though unwelcome, will be tolerated.
The West must do more. First, strong, comprehensive sectoral sanctions against the Russian defense, energy and financial sectors should be imposed to make clear to Mr. Putin that his continued belligerence and flagrant violation of international law will have serious consequences. Second, the West needs to provide Ukrainians the means with which to defend themselves. Weapons, especially anti-tank systems, will give the Ukrainian army the ability to defend its territory; military trainers will help Ukraine's army modernize more quickly; and medical trainers will help Ukraine's army minimize casualties. Furthermore, Canada can counter Russia's economic blackmail by opening up new markets to Ukraine by signing a free-trade agreement and further loosening visa restrictions.
Corruption remains a problem Ukraine but to use this as an excuse to not provide meaningful assistance, however, is at best misinformed. Ukraine's defence forces have made significant progress in the seven months since the corrupt former president Viktor Yanukovych fled the country. Western countries can send monitors to ensure that military aid reaches the right places.
The people of Ukraine have shown that they are willing to fight bravely against high odds against a much larger military power. Ukraine requires the material support of the West to win this battle. Mr. Poroshenko's visit provides an important opportunity for Canada to continue its leadership role in defending Ukraine's sovereignty and territorial integrity. A decision by Canada to provide Ukraine with the weapons and military trainers it requires is likely to influence our allies to do likewise.
Prime Minister Stephen Harper was right when he stated last week "We may not be Ukraine's most powerful friend but we will always be its most certain. […]What we say to the Ukrainian people, we say remember that during your struggle for peace and freedom, Canada is and Canada always will be at your side." Canada has led the international community's response to Russia's aggression, and public opinion polls have shown that an overwhelming majority of Canadians support that strong stand, but Russia's aggression has not abated.
Today's battle in Ukraine is not just Ukraine's fight. Ukraine gave up, voluntarily, the third-largest nuclear arsenal in the world after the collapse of the USSR – in exchange the U.S., United Kingdom and Russia, in signing the Budapest Memorandum, pledged to protect Ukraine's territorial integrity. Russia has broken its promise; the U.S. and U.K. have thus far not fulfilled theirs.
The people of Ukraine are fighting for precisely the values upon which Canada was built – democracy, freedom and peace. We stand behind Mr. Harper's principled foreign policy position on Ukraine and expect that all political leaders will voice their support for Canada as Ukraine's most certain friend.