Russia’s all-out assault on Ukraine last night – a full-scale invasion – shocked the world on Thursday. A concert of outrage is unanimous between Ottawa and Western capitals, which are preparing a response. But a war has really begun on earth.
Here we decipher the whole story together with Dominique Harel, Head of the Department of Ukrainian Studies at the University of Ottawa, and Guillaume Sauvet, Cerium Researcher at the University of Montreal, a specialist in Russia and the post-Soviet space. space.
Despite the fact that tensions on the Russian-Ukrainian border have been building for several weeks and conflict was inevitable, does Russia’s attack on Ukraine today surprise you with its speed and scale? ?
Guillaume Sov: To be honest, I am in shock, as are my fellow Russians. Many of us believed that there would be no total invasion of Ukraine. We considered most of the bluff, we distrusted the warnings of the United States. This is almost the worst case scenario.
Dominique Arel: Even if the Americans correctly announced it as “imminent”, it remains a big surprise that this massive attack happened. What seemed unthinkable two months ago is unfolding before our eyes. The impact is devastating.
How to decipher Moscow’s intentions now?
Dominique Arel: The intentions are clear. They want to destroy the Ukrainian army – what Putin calls “demilitarization” – to overthrow the Ukrainian government (by arresting all its leaders) to replace it with a Vichy-type collaborator regime. [du nom du régime français qui a gouverné la France pendant l’occupation allemande durant la Deuxième Guerre mondiale]. And then continue the division of Ukraine, expanding the control of the self-proclaimed republics [la République populaire de Donetsk et la République populaire de Lougansk, dans l’est de l’Ukraine] throughout the Donbass [les républiques prorusses occupent environ le tiers de la région du Donbas].
Guillaume Sov: As a precaution, we must rely on declared intentions. I do not believe, for example, that Russia wants to restore the USSR: it has no funds. But the overall goal is to prevent Ukraine from becoming a regime base in the service of the United States, and therefore a NATO base on Russia’s borders. It is a long-stated goal, a red line drawn by Putin – Ukraine cannot be part of NATO.
How does Vladimir Putin’s speech on Monday, in which he recognized the independence of pro-Russian separatists in Ukraine, help to understand what is happening today?
Dominique Arel : The recognition came at the very end of the performance. The point was to attack the very idea that Ukrainians could constitute a separate people with their own state. He drummed in that Ukrainian nationalism is “radical” and “Nazi”. He insisted that Ukrainians could not govern themselves because of corruption, a pure colonial vision. With 200,000 troops on the border, his words were a declaration of war on Ukraine.
Guillaume Sov: Since 2014, it has been believed that one of the ways [pour régler le conflit] was the Minsk process: agreements on the possible return of two separatist regions to Ukraine. For Russia, this would allow for a kind of decentralization of Ukraine and would give Moscow political leverage within Ukraine.
Since Monday, this strategy has been abandoned. Recognizing the independence of the regions, we are throwing the Minsk agreements into the trash. Russia no longer counts on the return of these provinces to participate in Ukrainian politics. Because they still have ambitions to influence Ukrainian politics, the Russians are finding other ways to do so.
How?” or “What?” At this stage, it is difficult to predict, but the minimum option seems to be the demilitarization of Ukraine. It involves the simultaneous destruction of the entire military infrastructure of the country in order to bring it to its knees and abandon plans to join NATO.
The real turning point was what happened that night. Until now, experts thought that we were following the Georgian scenario [en 2008, la Russie a reconnu deux régions séparatistes dans le nord de la Géorgie, petit État dans les montagnes du Caucase — l’armée est présente depuis pour en assurer la sécurité], where we could see how the Russian army militarily occupies two separatist republics in order to “freeze” the conflict. But the invasion of the whole of Ukraine is different. It is not clear from this how far Putin’s Russia can go.
What is the basis for the opinion that Ukraine is not a separate nation?
Dominique Arel: Russian nationalism has always represented the Ukrainian national idea as artificial, created by the West (historically Austria and Poland, now the USA). That is why Putin has been repeating for 15 years that the Ukrainian state is not real.
The USSR recognized the Ukrainian “nationality” because it had to come to terms with it in order to establish its legitimacy. Contrary to what Putin claims, the territorial division of this Ukraine largely corresponded to the national well-being of residents who identified themselves as Ukrainians. Thus, Ukraine is quite real. Accusation of genocide [le président Poutine affirme que les russophones d’Ukraine sont victimes d’une purge] obscenely, Russian propaganda already played this card when it annexed Crimea in 2014. More than 2,000 civilians died in 2014-2015… which has nothing to do with the genocide.
In your opinion, is the Russian invasion the most serious threat to international peace since World War II? Is it at this level?
Dominique Arel : Absolutely. The Charter of the United Nations is based on a fundamental principle: the territorial integrity of states. The invasion of Kuwait in 1990 led to the first Gulf War and the cancellation of the invasion. This time, NATO will not interfere. But the precedent has just been created, and we immediately think of China and Taiwan… The radicalism of Russian politics no longer precludes other attacks.
Guillaume Sauve : In my opinion, I hope I’m not mistaken, this is not a world war scenario. Russia has neither the means nor the ambition to conquer the world. It is trying to maintain its influence in the near abroad and in countries that are considered vital – Ukraine is at the top of this list. No one is interested in breaking out of a war between the nuclear powers, and I don’t feel that NATO is ready to go into it directly. [pour défendre un pays qui n’est pas membre de cette alliance].
Is the strategy of economic sanctions of the international community suitable at the moment? Otherwise, what can we expect, in particular, from NATO?
Dominique Arel: Sanctions won’t stop Putin, but they could significantly weaken the Russian economy in the medium to long term. It remains to be seen how far Americans and Europeans (as well as Canadians) are willing to go with regard to the severity of the sanctions. If hostilities with the Ukrainian army continue, NATO may increase its military assistance. A much larger presence of NATO forces [quelque 600 soldats canadiens sont en Lettonie, ancienne république soviétique voisine de la Russie] in the countries of central Europe, some on the border with Russia, and the accession of Sweden and Finland is not excluded.
What role can Canada play now?
Dominique Arel: Continue to coordinate our policies with the United States and the European Union. If the war results in a very large number of refugees fleeing Russian occupation, Canada should offer a larger welcome, in terms of proportion, because of its historical ties to Ukraine. [le Canada compte la troisième population ukrainienne en importance au monde, soit près de 1,3 million de personnes. De ce nombre, plus de 42 000 sont établies au Québec].
Guillaume Sov: We must not overestimate our ability to make an impact on the ground. It is best to provide Ukraine with humanitarian assistance in this situation. As far as economic sanctions are concerned, I don’t think they will have serious consequences.