Toronto Star

Ukraine missing support from the West


On Day 718 of the war in Ukraine, troops were under heavy attack trying to defend the poorly fortified front line north of Avdiivka where only some 950 residents remain from a pre-war population of 33,000. Taking Avdiivka, which seems inevitable and where fighting has raged since October, would be a propaganda victory for Moscow as the two-year anniversar­y of Russia’s invasion nears. The city is a strategic gateway to capturing all of the Donetsk region.

On Day 716 of the war in Ukraine, a $61.4-billion aid package edged incrementa­lly closer to passing in the U.S. Senate — tied to a larger package that includes aid for Israel and Taiwan. But Republican­s have vowed to delay considerat­ion via procedural dithering by forcing the Senate to navigate through a labyrinth of parliament­ary rules.

Crucially, they’re demanding amendments linked to quashing illegal immigratio­n at the U.S.-Mexico border. That’s despite a wrangled bipartisan agreement that hit the skids once Donald Trump, the GOP presidenti­al front-runner, came out against the deal. Because Trump doesn’t want U.S. President Joe Biden to resolve the border crisis ahead of the American election. It’s fodder for his comeback campaign.

On Day 714 of the war in Ukraine, Pierre Poilievre and his party disgraced themselves by voting once more against an updated free-trade agreement between Canada and Ukraine over an ideologica­l anvil — a carbon tax provision — that the Conservati­ve leader has been banging his head against for months. Not that it matters. The bill passed on third reading Wednesday with support from the NDP and Bloc Québécois and now moves to the Senate for review. But whacking the Liberal government’s national carbon tax will clearly feature large for the Tories in Canada’s next election.

On Day 713 of the war in Ukraine, an Angus Reid Institute poll was released indicating Canadians are losing interest in the conflict. The survey revealed that a quarter of Canadians believe we’re offering Ukraine “too much support,” up from 13 per cent who said the same thing in May 2022. The downturn is particular­ly prevalent among Conservati­ve voters, up to 43 per cent from 19 per cent.

While Prime Minster Justin Trudeau and his Liberals buff their soulmate-of-Ukraine bona fides, that moral high ground has crumbled significan­tly beneath their feet with the revelation that Ukraine is still begging for 83,000 surplus airto-ground rockets slated for disposal — the ask made last year.

The stockpile of missiles that can be fired from both fixed-wing airplanes and attack helicopter­s with a variety of warheads are of past their best-before date and the feds had signed a contract to destroy them three years ago. Most are no longer functional but possibly up to 8,000 of the rockets still have warheads in good condition and could be donated immediatel­y, while the rest could be salvaged for replacemen­t parts. Ukraine, scavenging the world for combat munitions, has begged for them. And Trudeau has given no reasonable explanatio­n for why they haven’t been handed over.

Kyiv must well be wondering where all that support from two years ago — moral but more significan­tly practical — has gone.

The West, over and over again, has shown that it doesn’t have the stomach for the long haul. It breaks things, as in Iraq and Afghanista­n, then bottles it when casualties mount and the tide of public opinion at home turns. Or it declares staunch alliance, as in Ukraine, from a NATO distance-removed and no boots on the ground, bolstering the war effort with all manner of economic, humanitari­an and military aid — but not yet, from the U.S., advanced fighter jets — and slapping sanctions on Russia, to negligible effect.

War fatigue has taken a while to catch up with Ukraine. Even with the exhausting experience of Afghanista­n and Iraq, the feeling persists in the public at least that massive conflicts can be concluded in mere months. Outside Ukraine, that war has been overshadow­ed since the Oct. 7 Hamas rampage into Israel — playing nicely into Putin’s hands — and Israel’s devastatin­g responding bombardmen­t of Gaza.

Last year’s Ukrainian counteroff­ensive was a bust. At least 300,000 Russian soldiers have been killed or wounded but Russia’s defences of territorie­s captured appear impenetrab­le as the war has ground to a stalemate. As Foreign Affairs magazine recently noted: “Another year of frontal assaults on the trench lines could make 2024 look like 1916, a year in World War I that brought harrowing loss of life but few battlefiel­d gains.”

Ukraine, meanwhile, has lost a generation of young men to this war, as it runs out of ammunition, supplies and equipment. Europe has just approved $54 billion in economic assistance, but Kyiv is dependent most critically on American money for weapons.

Ukrainians have fought valiantly, denying Putin his anticipate­d rapid strike victory. They’ve defended Kyiv at tremendous cost to civilians, retook Kherson — first major city and only regional capital captured by Russian forces in the initial invasion — after ferocious fighting in late February of 2022, then pushed Russian troops away from Kharkiv. Still, Ukraine has lost nearly one-fifth of its territory, including Crimea, which Russia seized in 2014.

Amid all this carnage, the blooddrenc­hed expansioni­st folly of a Russian tyrant asserting a historical claim, with visions of an Imperial Russian empire restored, it’s legitimate to wonder what Ukraine still hopes to achieve as back-channel talks creep towards discussion of a negotiated ceasefire, which President Volodymyr Zelenskyy has adamantly rejected.

Zelenskyy’s iconic global status has shrunk somewhat though his domestic popularity is still above 60 per cent. Likely to take another hit, however, after he sacked on Friday his top commander, the hugely admired Gen. Valerii Zaluzhnyi — who successful­ly defended the capital at the outset of the invasion — replaced by Col. Gen. Oleksandr Syrskyi, previously commander of ground forces, in the first major military shakeup of the war.

The trembles are far less consequent­ial in Ottawa. But it’s so petty and politicall­y anal — the stuff of a very small-minded conniving man — for Poilievre to be pimping for votes on an out-of-right-field whinge that is based on a phoney premise. The updated trade deal obliges both Canada and Ukraine to “co-operate bilaterall­y and in in- ternationa­l forums to address mat- ter of mutual interest, as appropri- ate.”

It also contained a provision “to promote carbon pricing and mea- sures to mitigate carbon leakage risks.”

Since such obligation pivots on “national priorities, circumstan­ces and available resources,” it actually amounts to sweet sod-all. This is fundamenta­lly about Poilievre’s anti-carbon tax obsession and, con- versely, Trudeau’s virtue-signalling obsession with reducing carbon emissions. He shouldn’t have stuck it in there. In any event, Ukraine has had a (modest) carbon tax in place since 2011.

How unseemly for the Tories to stall C-57 — empty showboatin­g by prompting 135 votes in the House over 24 hours straight last week. Tactically dopey too for a party that is riding high in the polls because it made Poilievre look like a rank rube while handing Trudeau a cudgel. The Ukrainian Canadian Congress was equally displeased, saying in a statement: “We are disappoint­ed that the vote in favour of the Bill was not unanimous.”

Partisan politics at its worst, no better than the deranged GOP, from a party that claims to be such an ardent ally of Ukraine, antecedent­s that stretch back to Stephen Harper, who as PM initiated talks on a free-trade deal and introduced Operation Unifier following Russia’s annexation of Crimea — the Canadian Armed Forces training mission to bolster Ukraine’s armed forces.

As a harbinger of stroppy character, it should give pause to Canadians ready to throw in their voting lot with Poilievre et al wankers.

Monday is Day 719 of the war in Ukraine.

 ?? PATRICK DOYLE THE CANADIAN PRESS FILE PHOTO ?? Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskyy and Prime Minister Justin Trudeau leave a joint press conference in September. Ukraine is still begging for 83,000 surplus air-to-ground rockets slated for disposal. And Trudeau has given no reasonable explanatio­n for why they haven’t been handed over.
PATRICK DOYLE THE CANADIAN PRESS FILE PHOTO Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskyy and Prime Minister Justin Trudeau leave a joint press conference in September. Ukraine is still begging for 83,000 surplus air-to-ground rockets slated for disposal. And Trudeau has given no reasonable explanatio­n for why they haven’t been handed over.
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