Should the West Arm Ukraine Defensively?

June 24, 2015 12:00 pm Last Updated: December 29, 2015 8:17 pm

Should Canada, the United States, and Europe arm Ukraine with anti-tank missiles and other defensive weapons?

When Vladimir Putin was handed Russia’s presidency by an ailing Boris Yeltsin in 2000, the country had few, if any, enemies. During the ensuing 15 years, Putin constantly demonized the West to the Russian people, while rebuilding the country’s military largely with oil and gas revenues from customers in Europe.

Putin’s self-created war in eastern Ukraine appears aimed at achieving control of a large swath of the country and rendering its overall transition to democracy and independence as difficult as possible.

Sanctions are unlikely to alter his aggression quickly because the nationalism he has unleashed among Russians appears to be trumping economic considerations.

The nationalism Putin has unleashed among Russians appears to be trumping economic considerations.

Daniel Baer, U.S. ambassador to the Organization for Security and Co-operation in Europe, updated its council in Vienna on June 4, summarizing Russian peace violations during the previous two weeks: “We’ve had Russian military captured (in) Ukraine … Russian vehicles and fighters with Russian military insignia reported … multiple open source reports of vehicles and weapons moving inside Russia toward Ukraine … new large-scale Russian-separatist attack on Ukraine …”

In an analysis in Psychology Today last year, Ian Robertson of Trinity College, Dublin, concluded: “The very worst response would be appeasement because this will simply fuel (Putin’s) contempt and strengthen the justification for his position. Strong consequences have to follow from his contempt for international law and treaties.”

George Soros observes, “Putin’s ambition to recreate a Russian empire has unintentionally helped bring into being a new Ukraine that is opposed to Russia and seeks to become the opposite of the old Ukraine with its endemic corruption and ineffective government. … A politically engaged civil society is the best assurance against a return of the old Ukraine.”

The old Ukraine includes terrible crimes against humanity by Stalin, Krushchev, and other Russians. In William Taubman’s 2003 book, “Krushchev-The Man and His Era,” the author notes, “Stalin himself later told Winston Churchill that the ‘great bulk’ of ten million kulaks were ‘wiped out.’ Many died during the great famine of 1932-1933, a terrible man-made disaster visited on the countryside… as the result of collectivization” of agriculture.

Taubman adds that Krushchev, as Stalin’s viceroy in Ukraine, “presided over the purges. … In 1938 alone, 116,119 are said to have been arrested; between 1938 and 1940 the total was 165,565. According to Molotov… Krushchev ‘sent 54,000 people to the next world … .'”

Unless despots are confronted early and forcefully they become much worse.

Ukraine could prove to be a domino in central-east Europe, illustrating again that unless despots are confronted early and forcefully they become much worse. A viable NATO strategy for deterrence and, if necessary, response to aggression is needed now, argues Andrew Michta, director of the Warsaw branch of the German Marshall Fund. He adds that a new containment strategy has risks, but will “offer Russia a chance to rebuild its relations with the West down the line.”

Regular Russian army units appear to comprise 8,500 to 10,000 of the estimated 36,000 Russian/separatist fighters continuing to terrorize eastern Ukraine. They face about 34,000 Ukrainian troops.

Russian armor is estimated at 250 tanks and 800 armored personnel carriers, along with artillery, multiple launch rocket systems (MLRS), and unmanned aerial vehicles (UAVs). About 70 percent of Ukrainian casualties are thought to be from MLRS and artillery strikes.

The best reason for going beyond nonlethal weapons and arming Ukraine with defensive ones is that only a strong Ukraine is likely to deter further aggression by Putin. Some EU countries—notably Germany, France, the U.K. and Finland—remain cautious, wary that sending weapons to Ukraine could escalate the conflict. Lithuania and Estonia, however, are in favor of the idea.

Paul Grod, president of the Ukrainian Canadian Congress, wrote recently, “In attacking Ukraine and continuously violating the Minsk I and II cease-fire agreements, Russia and the terrorists it supports present the most serious threat to global security since the end of the Cold War. Canada has taken a principled position supporting Ukraine’s government with nonlethal military equipment, military training as well as humanitarian and medical aid.”

American lawmakers have approved $200 million for providing “lethal weapons of a defensive nature” to the Ukrainian government as part of the Pentagon budget proposal for fiscal 2016. It also authorizes the Pentagon to “accept and retain contributions, including in-kind contributions, from foreign governments.”

It is time now for all the friends of Ukraine and its people to act.

David Kilgour

David Kilgour, a lawyer by profession, served in Canada’s House of Commons for almost 27 years. In Jean Chretien’s Cabinet, he was secretary of state (Africa and Latin America) and secretary of state (Asia-Pacific). He is the author of several books and co-author with David Matas of “Bloody Harvest: The Killing of Falun Gong for Their Organs.”