With Canada ramping up its war of words against Russia over the crisis in Ukraine, it takes very little scrutiny to discover that Prime Minister Stephen Harper and Foreign Affairs Minister John Baird are all bark and no bite.
With no troops or equipment stationed in Europe, Canada has made great fanfare over the fact that we are deploying six CF-18 fighter aircraft to Romania. This was billed as Canada’s response to Russian territorial aggression in Ukraine.
No one has even remotely suggested that Russian President Vladimir Putin might seek to invade Romania, Ukraine is not a member of NATO and Romania, which is a member of the alliance, borders Ukraine, so that is where we sent our combat planes.
In making the initial announcement of deploying the CF-18s, the media was invited to what was correctly billed as a “photo-op” on April 17. The staged image was that of General Tom Lawson, the chief of defence staff, pointing to reference points on a map of Europe, while Harper looked on intently.
At that early stage, Canada still hadn’t negotiated a deal with a NATO ally. Poland was one option, before Romania did us the favour.
Officially, it must be remembered that Canada is sending these six aircraft, along with a couple hundred ground crew, to assist in training the Romanian Air Force. Accepting that at face value, then why all the official showmanship of the photo op and the rousing send-off for the brave CF-18 pilots when they departed from Canadian Forces Base Bagotville last Tuesday?
It seems a little over the top for a routine training mission.
Then came the official announcement last Wednesday that HMCS Regina, currently deployed to the Arabian Sea, is being reassigned to patrol closer to the crisis in eastern Europe.
Under questioning, Harper’s office admitted that the frigate will be on station somewhere in the eastern Mediterranean, not the Black Sea, and therefore nowhere near any of the impending action.
As an anti-submarine patrol frigate, the ship has no long-range surface-to-surface weaponry. And even if you factor in her 53-year-old Sea King helicopter, her redeployment still adds nothing to the tactical equation.
Yet this meaningless repositioning of a single ship was announced by none other than the Prime Minister’s Office as part of Canada’s response to Russian aggression.
As for boots on the ground, it was also announced last week that a total of three Canadian military personnel will be deployed as part of a nine-member, unarmed observation team into Ukraine.
A further 20 unarmed Canadian staff officers have been allocated to NATO headquarters in Brussels to assist with the staff work generated by the current situation in Ukraine.
So to back up all of Harper and Baird’s bellicose blustering, let’s recap our military escalation: six fighter jets to train Romanians, one aging frigate and an ancient helicopter to waters well distant from the crisis area, 20 paper-shufflers to help draft plans in Belgium and three unarmed individuals to act as hostage bait in Ukraine.
If the Russians are taking any notice of Canada’s reaction, they must be wondering why Harper and Baird are shouting so loudly when we are evidently capable of actually doing so little.
Not helping Canada’s pledge of full support to the interim Ukraine government is the fact that the neo-fascist, right-wing elements of that coalition continue to celebrate their Nazi heritage. On April 27, in the western Ukraine city of Lvov, several hundred young men and women marched to commemorate the creation of the 14th Waffen SS Galician Division in 1943.
This volunteer unit consisted entirely of Ukrainian volunteers and was one of the most ruthless SS units in the persecution of Jews and communists. While previous Soviet atrocities against Ukrainians during the 1930s created large numbers of eager SS recruits seeking reprisals against Russians and communists, two wrongs do not make a right.
With the passage of time, and with the full knowledge of the horrors of the Holocaust, service in the Waffen SS is not something that should be celebrated. The right wing extremists amid the Ukrainian governing parties may be the minority, but they are also by far the most militant.
When Baird announced that Canada was a “player, not a referee” in this crisis, he might have been better advised to see who else was on the team roster.
It is not Russian propaganda when militant Ukrainians herald their SS forefathers. It is frightening.