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Former Ukrainian president Petro Poroshenko is participating at the Halifax International Security Forum this weekend.Handout

Former Ukrainian president Petro Poroshenko says he thinks it’s “extremely possible” Russian troops massing on his country’s border could invade, and is urging NATO to supply Kiev with equipment, including anti-aircraft weaponry, that could increase the cost to Moscow of an incursion.

In an interview with The Globe and Mail, Mr. Poroshenko, a participant at the Halifax International Security Forum taking place this weekend, also urged Canada to help convince NATO allies to supply Ukraine with more defensive equipment – including electronic warfare gear.

And he urged NATO to take steps to put Ukraine on the path to membership in the alliance, a long-standing request of Kiev’s that NATO has yet to implement. This could help pave the way for eventual membership in the European Union, the former president said.

The Ukrainian businessman became president after the 2014 Maidan protests and was in power until 2019, when he lost to former comedian Volodymyr Zelensky.

He sees a connection between the migrant crisis at the Belarus-Poland border and the large and unusual buildup of Russian troops on Ukraine’s border, which was last week estimated at 100,000 soldiers.

In this handout satellite image released by Maxar Technologies taken on Nov. 1, Russian tanks, armoured personnel carriers and support equipment amid the presence of a large ground forces deployment on the northern edge of the town of Yelnya, Smolensk Oblast, Russia.HANDOUT/AFP/Getty Images

In recent weeks European countries have accused Belarus, a close ally of Moscow, of weaponizing migration by flying in migrants from the Middle East and pushing them to attempt illegal crossings into Poland and Lithuania.

Mr. Poroshenko said the troop buildup is a test for the West by Russian President Vladimir Putin.

And the former Ukranian president took issue with those who would play down the possibility of an invasion.

“I think this is extremely possible now,” he said.

He noted that nobody thought Russia would seize the Crimean peninsula in 2014, or that it would sponsor the conflict in eastern Ukraine that continues today. “Anybody who thinks this is impossible … Well we had the same things happening in 2014.”

He said the Russian people should weigh the cost of a border incursion.

“Dozens of hundreds or thousands of Russians would be killed, and Russian people should understand that this is a crazy plan for Putin,” he said.

The West, he added, needs to raise the price Russia would pay for an invasion, and he asked Canada to help build support for greater military assistance to Ukraine. “We definitely need a special mission for NATO in Ukraine,” he said.

Mr. Poroshenko called the Russian troop assembly on Ukraine’s border “one of the main dangers in the autumn of 2021 for global security.”

“A new stage of Russian aggression” has begun, he said, noting that, in the spring, Moscow moved Iskander ballistic missiles to locations a couple hundred kilometres from the Russia-Ukraine border. He described the integration deal between Belarus and Russia as the “Anschluss,” a reference to the 1938 political union between Austria and Germany, and argued that this has expanded Russian’s de facto borders.

He said Mr. Putin is working to expand Russia’s “zone of influence,” noting that the Russian leader has moved from opposing Ukraine’s membership in NATO to protesting NATO’s presence in Ukraine.

Mr. Poroshenko, a fierce political rival of President Zelensky, is expected to seek the Ukrainian presidency again. The next election will take place in 2024.

He urged a revival of the “global coalition” that stood up for Ukrainian independence in 2014 after Moscow annexed Crimea, and he advocated for a list of sanctions that could be applied to Russia if Mr. Putin “crossed a red line,” including excluding the country from the SWIFT international electronic payment system.

Mr. Poroshenko urged Westerners to offer a united front in the face of Russian aggression, saying this is the only way to prevent an attack.

“Don’t be afraid of Putin … Act decisively against Putin because only this joint decisive action can bring the effective results,” he said. “Please don’t trust Putin, because nothing he promised over the last seven, eight, nine years happened.”

With a report from Reuters

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