David Marples: Canada offered non-lethal military support to the Ukrainian side

David Marples: Canada offered non-lethal military support to the Ukrainian side


Exclusive interview of David R. Marples is Distinguished University Professor, Department of History and Classics, University of Alberta, Canada

To Your mind what is the contribution of Canada into NATO's activity?

The main contribution is somewhat meagre in terms of defence investment. For many years Canadian defence policy has rested on its alliance with the United States in NATO and NORAD. But despite the limited budget contributions--well under 2% of the total budget--Canada has played an important role in certain parts of the world, most recently in Afghanistan. Canada has at times adopted an independent policy vis-a-vis its main ally, the United States, declining for example to join the US attack on Iraq led by George W. Bush (similar to Turkey) in 2003 and it has acted as a peacemaker and mediator traditionally. Nonetheless, it has taken part in every NATO operation to some degree. Under Prime Minister Harper (2014-19) the commitment was particularly strong. Canada, aside from budget limitations has overall been a loyal and dedicated NATO member, particularly in the Cold War period when it operated two large military bases in western Germany. Since the end of the Cold War Canada has been among the preeminent contributors to international peace and security in the world and is widely well regarded for its efforts.

To Your mind, which is the role of Canada in policy of Ukraine?

Ukraine has been very committed to the support of democracy in Ukraine since Stephen Harper became Canadian Prime Minister in 2006. Of course, Canada's support took on symbolic importance when it was the second country worldwide to support Ukrainian independence in 1991, but its role broadened under Harper who maintained very close connections with the Ukrainian Canadian Congress, the major community organization. The UCC enthusiastically endorsed the Yushchenko presidency after the Orange Revolution. In 2008 when Yushchenko visited Ottawa, the Canadian Parliament endorsed his policy to declare the Famine of 1933 in Ukraine an act of Genocide carried out by the Stalin leadership in Moscow. Similarly, Harper backed the Euromaidan protests and visited Kyiv to show support for newly elected president Petro Poroshenko. In 2015 when Justin Trudeau and the Liberals took power, the same policy of support for Ukraine, including in its conflict with Russia, was retained. Trudeau appointed as his Foreign Minister Chrystia Freeland,  of Ukrainian heritage on her mother's side, and the grand-daughter of Myhailo Chomiak, the editor of the wartime Ukrainian newspaper published in Cracow. Freeland is fluent in Ukrainian and Russian, and a celebrated Harvard-educated journalist. She was on a list of Canadians banned from entering Russia prior to the 2014 election. Canada has committed small forces to assist the Ukrainian army as well as offered non-lethal military support to the Ukrainian side. Again the amounts relatively modest. Canada's Ukrainian community is well established (Ukrainians first came to Canada in the 1890s) but somewhat divided. In the Soviet period, Ukrainian Communists exerted some influence. Other Canadian Ukrainian consider that the current UCC is too nationalistic and divisive and work through alternative organizations.

How do You assess the behavior of Turkey as a member of NATO?

This is a complex question with many dimensions. Relations between Erdogan and Trump have been frayed for some time. Erdogan believes that the United States supported the failed 2016 putsch that tried to unseat him and has been exploring alternatives for the purchase of military equipment, i.e. Russia. Turkey has always been somewhat problematic though an important strategic partner of NATO because of its geographical position on the Black Sea and as a link between the Middle East and Europe. But it has never conformed to the image of a typical NATO state. For one thing, it has never been fully democratic. One feature of recent new members of NATO is that they also became members of the EU almost simultaneously, which carried the prerequisite of being a democratic state. The EU has declined repeatedly to admit Turkey, which has led to frustration in Ankara. Turkey also has the border problem of the Kurds, which it regards as a terrorist group. By contrast the US has supported the Kurds as freedom fighters. Turkey's commitment to the war in Syria was limited to a desire to remove Syrian leader Bashar al-Assad--paradoxically suggesting antagonism with Russia, which is dedicated to keeping him in power. Nonetheless, Erdogan's purchase of Russian S-400 air defense system is regarded in Washington as detrimental to NATO interests. It would be premature, however, for NATO to consider expelling Turkey, which in the long-term could once again become an important partner. For Turkey in turn, one can see few advantages in joining one of the Russian partnerships as for the most part it does not share common interests. 


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