This is an open letter to German Chancellor Angela Merkel from Yaroslav Baran of Euromaidan Ottawa and the Ukrainian Canadian Congress on the occasion of Merkel’s current visit to Ottawa to discuss the Ukraine crisis with Prime Minister Stephen Harper:
Dear Chancellor Merkel:
As head of government of the Federal Republic of Germany, there is no question that you are a friend of Canada’s and a friend of freedom-loving peoples throughout the world. As an important NATO ally, as the backbone of the European Union, and as the country of origin of some two million Canadians, there is no doubting Germany’s influence and importance to Canada as a friend nation.
It is in this spirit of friendship that we appeal to you in this critical time of both crisis in Ukraine, and shuttle diplomacy seeking a lasting resolution to the war that has been escalating between the sovereign government of Ukraine and the proxy militias of the Russian Federation. To date, this war has resulted in the annexation of Crimea and the occupation of two oblasts (regions) and significant parts of two other oblasts. It has killed more than 5,300 people and displaced hundreds of thousands more.
Your efforts in seeking a peaceful resolution to this armed conflict should be commended. Everyone in Canada wishes to see a peaceful resolution, and we may safely presume that this same sentiment is shared throughout the European Union.
It is precisely at a time of momentum in negotiation, however, that we must pause and reflect on several fundamental points:
First, there must be no question that Russia is indeed a party to the conflict. NATO intelligence, Ukrainian intelligence, third-party and civilian intelligence all point irrefutably to the presence of Russian soldiers on Ukrainian soil, actively taking part in hostile manoeuvres. Moreover, there is no longer any question that the military hardware being used by the pro-Russian militias in Donetsk and Luhansk oblasts has been supplied by Russia — and that a steady flow of tanks and other heavy artillery continues.
Second, as you negotiate with President Putin, we urge you to take serious stock of the meanings behind his words. Putin himself has stated repeatedly that he wishes to see a “peaceful solution”, that the solution must respect Ukraine’s territorial integrity, and that he is willing to entertain serious proposals that would be mutually acceptable.
On the point of mutual acceptability, it is difficult to imagine a country insisting it is not involved in a conflict, and then turning around and suggesting it must be consulted and satisfied with any proposals to settle that conflict in which it is unengaged.
More significantly, what does Putin mean when he says he wishes to see a peaceful resolution that respects Ukraine’s integrity (setting aside occupied Crimea for a moment), but a deal with which the Kremlin must be satisfied? Taken together, this is clearly a code for a federalization of Ukraine with such a devolution of power as to give Donetsk and Luhansk virtual autonomy with respect to domestic affairs and veto power over both foreign affairs and defence policy.
Ukraine needs modern armaments — particularly anti-tank systems and more sophisticated communications capabilities. More tanks have crossed from Russian to Ukraine in the last month than in the preceding year.
It is perfectly understandable that such a proposal would seem tempting to international diplomats, particularly in seeking solutions to end further bloodshed. Drastic? Yes. Seemingly reasonable under the circumstances? Also yes — if it ends the fighting.
This, however, is precisely the outcome Putin wants, and precisely the kind of deal that must be avoided at all costs. This is why:
Such an arrangement would be the easiest and most cost-effective way for Russia to permanently destabilize Ukraine in a manner that minimizes Kremlin fingerprints. An autonomous Donetsk and Luhansk — particularly if governed and represented by the thuggish Russian and Chechen militiamen and Russian regulars currently calling the shots — would use their foreign and defence policy vetoes to prevent Ukraine’s entry into both the European Union and NATO … forever. Ukraine’s westward integration would be instantly stymied — but this would apply to all of Ukraine, not just the two eastern regions.
Simultaneously, Donetsk and Luhansk effectively would become Russian protectorates, yet without the Kremlin footing any of the cost of post-war rebuilding, both physical and social. Russian imperialism would realize all the benefits, but would incur none of the costs.
Given your own country’s history — from the unworkability of the Weimar constitution to the process of reunification in 1990 — Germany will be particularly sensitive and sympathetic to so-called “peace” deals brokered by powers that leave insufficient tools for the legitimately elected government to take control over all aspects of governance over its sovereign soil. Coming from the East of your country, there is no doubt that you would remember the realities of an unofficial Russian-controlled vassal state.
Given recent events in Moscow, with a legislative movement afoot to declare even German reunification illegal, and to declare the events of 1990 an illegal occupation of East Germany, how can the people of Germany continue to be blind to the real dangers of this new Putin combination of revanchism and irredentism?
The only solution is to give Ukraine the tools it requires to assert and preserve its own sovereignty. Ukraine needs modern armaments — particularly anti-tank systems and more sophisticated communications capabilities. Your Defence Minister von der Leyen has stated that the potential arms supply for the rebels is limited. Recent events have demonstrated it is not. More tanks have crossed from Russian to Ukraine in the last month than in the preceding year. President Poroshenko has also noted that whenever the imbalance of armaments between the two sides has become more acute, the fighting has indeed intensified — not abated. With the latest anti-tank and communications systems available, the cost of a renewed military push into Ukraine would simply be too high for Russia.
NATO Secretary-General Stoltenberg has endorsed the concept of sending defensive arms to Ukraine to allow the country to defend itself from this slow-motion foreign invasion. Moreover, he has stated that arming Ukraine is a question for individual states — not for NATO as a whole. We urge you to reconsider your position, and for Germany to show leadership in demonstrating that Russian imperialist aggression will not be tolerated by the great countries of Europe.
We also urge you to use your leadership and global influence to lead a renewed international push for Russia’s exclusion from the SWIFT network of international digital commercial transaction.
We also urge you to use your leadership and global influence to lead a renewed international push for Russia’s exclusion from the SWIFT network of international digital commercial transaction. Immediate exclusion from SWIFT, and an expansion of sectoral sanctions against Russia, could finally provide sufficient pressure and economic impact to force the Kremlin to reverse its actions. Exclusion from SWIFT, in particular, would demonstrate that a country incapable of playing by the international community’s rules will not be able to use the international community’s tools of trade. Rhetoric and threats will not work. Action and decisiveness will.
Madam Chancellor, the 20th Century saw Europe’s soil soaked with the blood of tens of millions of unnecessary deaths. The world order in which we now exist was designed to preclude any repetition of the horrors of that century. Countries may not invade neighbours at will. Boundaries may not be redrawn by regional bullies. Parties to conflict and aggression are no longer to be met with appeasement. These are truths and values that lie at the heart of the new Europe.
We urge you, as the core and greatest steward of the new Europe, to defend these values, and to do so fully and effectively.
Yaroslav Baran is a member of the board of Euromaidan Ottawa, a grassroots group formed in solidarity with Ukraine’s pro-West and pro-democracy movement. He is a principal at the Earnscliffe Strategy Group, a former communications director to Stephen Harper, and also current president of the Ukrainian Canadian Congress (Ottawa). This open letter has been republished from ipolitics.ca.