Defending Europe by Arming Ukraine Defensively
The rebirth of an independent Ukraine in 1991 was a major development in the post-Berlin Wall world. Dictators and severe oppression from Moscow had long denied Ukrainians the right to determine their own national future. Their national poet Taras Shevchenko poignantly called Ukraine “this land of ours that is not ours.”
In William Taubman’s book on Nikita Khrushchev, he notes, “Stalin … later told Winston Churchill that the ‘great bulk’ of ten million (Ukrainian farmers) were ‘wiped out’ during the great famine of 1932–1933, a terrible man-made disaster … as the result of collectivization of agriculture.” As Stalin’s viceroy in Ukraine, Khrushchev “presided over the purges … In 1938 alone, 116,119 … [may] have been arrested; between 1938 and 1940 … 165,565. According to Molotov … Khrushchev ‘[had] 54,000 people [killed].’”
Canada was the first nation to recognize Ukraine’s independence after 92 percent voted in their 1991 referendum to declare independence from Russia. Approximately 1.36 million Canadians self-identified as Ukrainian in our 2016 census; they have since the 1890s played important roles across Canada.
The 2013–14 Euromaidan “Revolution of Dignity” included 90 percent of the Kyivans and much of the population of Ukraine. Its success caused the deeply kleptocratic President Viktor Yanukovych to flee to Russia after seeking to block Ukraine’s integration with the European Union and to steer it towards a Moscow-dominated Eurasian sphere of influence.
Enraged by the loss of Russian influence in Ukraine, Vladimir Putin launched an undeclared war on it in February 2014. More than 10,000 persons died, 25,000 were wounded, and almost two million internally displaced. His tactics have included cyberattacks on electricity grids, targeted assassinations, defaming the father of Canada’s foreign affairs minister Chrystia Freeland, and seizing about seven percent of Ukraine’s territory. The infrastructure of Ukraine’s Donetsk and Luhansk oblasts (the Donbas) has been destroyed.
Regular Russian army units comprise 8,500 to 10,000 of the estimated 36,000 Russian and separatist fighters continuing to terrorize Eastern Ukraine, facing 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. About 70 percent of Ukrainian casualties are thought to be from MLRS and artillery strikes.
In mid-2015, Daniel Baer, U.S. ambassador to the Organization for Security and Co-operation in Europe summarized Russian peace violations with Ukraine during the previous two weeks: “We’ve had Russian military captured (in) Ukraine … Russian vehicles and fighters with Russian military insignia reported … multiple reports of vehicles and weapons moving inside Russia toward Ukraine … new large-scale Russian-separatist attack on Ukraine.”
Ukraine seized or dismembered could prove to be a domino in central-east Europe, illustrating again that unless rogue despots are confronted forcefully they become much worse. A viable NATO strategy for deterrence and, if necessary, an overwhelming response to aggression is needed now.
Europe’s borders have been violated by military force since Ukrainians were persuaded that their country’s territorial integrity and political sovereignty were inviolable, secured by the pledges of the United States, U.K. and, ironically, the Russian Federation. Ukraine alone managed to check the forces Putin was prepared to risk for the sake of foreign adventurism. Western governments offered only non-lethal military aid.
The Trump administration, however, will soon supply Ukraine’s military with anti-tank guided missiles—35 FGM-148 Javelin command launch units and 210 anti-tank guided missiles. Former Vice President Joe Biden affirms that this initiative is “right” and “wise.”
Ukrainian President Petro Poroshenko last summer called for 1,240 Javelins, the exact number of nuclear warheads Ukraine surrendered in exchange for guarantees of its sovereignty, which was violated by Russia’s annexation of Crimea and invasion of eastern Ukraine.
Defence consultant Ihor Kozak and Lubomyr Luciuk of the Royal Military College in Canada recently wrote:
“Even arming Ukraine with this reduced number of Javelins does, however, change the military balance between the contending armies … The FGM-148 Javelin … has rightly been called ‘the US military’s tank-killer missile that Russia fears most’ … It can also be used against fortifications and to take down low flying helicopters … Providing the Ukrainian military with this advanced capability to fight back against Russian armor will be a game changer.”
The Javelins should decrease further Putin’s aggression against Ukraine by sending him a clear message that the West is no longer turning a blind eye to misbehavior. The lethal damage Javelins can inflict on armored vehicles and their personnel might give him pause. The world knows by now that he respects only those who operate from positions of strength. Arming Ukraine defensively might significantly help to secure the peace of Europe.
David Kilgour, a lawyer by profession, served in Canada’s House of Commons for almost 27 years. In Jean Chrétien’s Cabinet, he was secretary of state (Latin America and Africa) 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.”