What Putin wants, what Joly can

While tens of thousands of Russian soldiers are massed around Ukraine, where Mélanie Joly was recently on mission, we have to admit that Vladimir Putin is the real master of the game.

Posted at 5:00 a.m.

Since the beginning of this crisis, it is he who has the best cards. He is also the most threatening.

Thus, to know how this dramatic crisis will end, one would have to know its true intentions. To what extent, for example, does he yearn to carve up Ukrainian territory a little more?

Does he really want, at all costs, to “destroy Ukraine” and “restore the USSR”, as the secretary of the National Security and Defense Council of Ukraine has already asserted?

It’s all part of, to quote former US Secretary of Defense Donald Rumsfeld, the “known unknowns”.

Things we know we don’t know.

So let’s focus instead on the “known knowns”, which this politician described as the things “known as known”. It is useful to have a better vision of the stakes of this crisis.

We know that the requests made by Russia before Christmas go so far that a positive response to all the requests is unlikely.

Moscow is demanding in particular a treaty to ban any further enlargement of NATO, the end of military deployments in Eastern Europe and the disappearance of American military bases in the countries of the former Soviet space.

What we also know is that Ukraine’s allies are not ready to fight to defend the country. In the event of an attack, the reprisals would be essentially economic, said Joe Biden last year.

However, the deterrent power of economic sanctions is almost nil with the Russian president.

A skilled tactician, he will likely use it again to portray Russia as a victim of the West and to whip up the patriotism and pride of its citizens.

Because what we know, finally, is that Vladimir Putin is an imperial president (for whom “the fall of the USSR was the greatest catastrophe” of the last century) and martial.

When he puffed out his chest on the international scene, his popularity swelled in Russia. The war in Chechnya, the conflict in Georgia, the invasion of Crimea and, to a lesser extent, the intervention in Syria have restored its image.

The Russians then momentarily put aside their grievances about, for example, the state of the economy.

In the circumstances, what can our new Minister of Foreign Affairs, Mélanie Joly, do?

First, we must congratulate her for flying to Ukraine to meet with the country’s leaders, and then consult with our European allies during visits to Brussels and Paris.

We had not seen such dynamism in his predecessor, Marc Garneau.

Now, what about Canada’s credibility on this issue? Experts have mentioned, not without reason, that our country is perceived as biased.

For several years now, our foreign policy towards Russia has been strongly influenced by our unwavering alliance with Ukraine. This support is to be linked to the important community of more than 1 million Canadians of Ukrainian origin.

It’s true, but that’s not a reason to question Mélanie Joly’s European mission.

In any case, no one will dare to claim that a Canada less identified with the Ukrainian cause could have influenced Russian foreign policy.

Several have noted that Moscow, these days, considers the United States to be the only valid interlocutors in this file.

What is fundamental, however, is that Canada support diplomatic efforts with the energy of desperation. And that it contributes to unifying the allies of Ukraine behind this position.

In this sense, the decision not to immediately move forward with arms sales to Ukraine is wise. This is not to contribute in any way to the escalation.

This decision has all the more weight as it is taken by a great ally of Ukraine, which has contributed to the training of some 33,000 Ukrainian soldiers in recent years (thanks to a mission, still in progress, conducted by 200 Canadian soldiers in Ukraine).

That said, there are still questions to which we are entitled to get answers from Ottawa, as the magazine recently pointed out. Maclean’s.

What to do, precisely, with the Canadian soldiers in Ukraine in the event of an armed conflict? Similarly, if Russia attacks, will Ukraine then be offered weapons (along with the $120 million loan Justin Trudeau announced on Friday)?

But the list of known unknowns as to the position of Canada and its allies does not end there.

More important is how much they will be willing to acknowledge that Russia’s concerns about NATO’s eastward expansion – which has been going on, at high speed, since the 1990s – are justifiable.

And how far, therefore, they will be willing to compromise in talks with Moscow to avoid an armed conflict.

Obtaining reasonable answers to these questions is urgent. For the point is not far off where, to paraphrase the historian Margaret MacMillan, war will become more likely than peace.

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