Everyone, it seems, wants Canada to contribute troops to, even to lead, a United Nations peacekeeping mission to Ukraine. But, it’s not going to happen. It cannot.
Ukraine wants peacekeepers to help them re-establish their pre-invasion border with Russia. Russia wants peacekeepers to solidify its post-invasion border with what remains of Ukraine. Canadian Prime Minister Justin Trudeau has repeatedly promised, first during the 2015 election and regularly thereafter, that Canada would re-focus its military on peacekeeping and contribute at least 600 soldiers on a revolving basis to a UN peacekeeping mission somewhere on Earth. In recent days, Trudeau has expressed his desire for Canada to lead a UN peacekeeping mission to Ukraine. So, has Chrystia Freeland, his Foreign Affairs Minister whose own family has roots in Ukraine.
Even Trudeau’s nemesis, Opposition Leader Andrew Scheer, is calling on the government to get. it. done. already. and has promised that a Conservative Party government led by him would immediately commit to leading and contributing hundreds of troops to a UN mission in Ukraine.
So, what’s the problem?
Although both Ukraine and Russia say they’re open to a UN peacekeeping mission, both these combatant nations have very different ideas what that mission should be. For Russia, it’s a way to consolidate its ill-gotten gains in Crimea and make its new borders permanent. For Ukraine, it’s a way to gain international support to push the Russians out of its Crimean territory and re-establish its old border without further bloodshed.
If it was possible to broker a compromise, then a UN mission might make sense. A neutral, UN force of peacekeepers could secure the agreed-upon border while both sides withdraw their forces beyond engagement distance until tempers calm and diplomatic relations between Russia and Ukraine return to something approaching normal. The key word, in this situation, however, is “neutral.”
Canada has troops on the ground in Ukraine, teaching their soldiers how to kill Russians. Hard to be “neutral” peacekeepers there now.
I’ve served on three very different types of UN peacekeeping missions and supported a unit engaged in a fourth. In every case, the hallmark of an acceptable peacekeeping force is neutrality. For a peacekeeping mission to work in Ukraine, the intervening blue-berets must be accepted and trusted by both Ukraine and Russia. The peacekeepers must be neutral.
Canada is not neutral.
Canada is demonstrably, and vocally, on Ukraine’s side in this conflict. Former Prime Minister Stephen Harper famously refused to shake Russian president Vladimir Putin’s hand at an international conference and, instead, told him to get his troops out of Ukraine. Canada has implemented trade sanctions against Russia because of its aggression in Ukraine. Canada has sent hundreds of troops to train Ukrainian soldiers to better fight their Russian enemy, and tons of “non-kinetic” military support to supply the Ukrainian military. Andrew Scheer, in calling for a peacekeeping mission in Ukraine, even explained the need for such a mission as a response to “Russian aggression.”
No, Canada is far from neutral in this conflict. Nor, should it be. Over a million Canadians have family roots in Ukraine. Russia broke international law and violated decent moral standards when it invaded Ukraine to claim Crimea as its own territory. Russia is wrong. Ukraine is, at the very least, less wrong. By standing with Ukraine, Canada is on the right side of this conflict. Instead of committing 600 troops to a pointless UN peacekeeping mission somewhere else, I’d be happy to see Canada contribute a permanent battalion-sized presence (i.e. 600-1000 soldiers) on Ukrainian soil – or Latvian, or Estonian, or anywhere else the Russian bear is looking to annex next.
Canada has taken sides in Russia v. Ukraine. Just as we took sides in Nazi Germany v. World. Taking sides makes Canada a better nation, a more valuable ally and a more mature and influential player on the world stage. But, having taken sides, Canada has disqualified itself from playing a neutral peacekeeping role.
Besides, Russia has a permanent veto on the UN Security Council – and it will never allow a UN-sponsored force to stymie its objectives in Ukraine.