This article was also published on iAffairs.ca.

Since 2014, the dispute between Ukraine and Russia over Crimea has contributed to further tensions as violence in eastern Ukraine persists. This article probes Russia’s annexation of Crimea; Western and specifically Canadian support for Ukraine; peacekeeping technologies; and brief economic considerations, through the perspectives of Professor Walter Dorn, a defence studies professor at the Royal Military College and member of Science for Peace; and Ambassador Marius Grinius, who has served in many roles such as Staff Officer for the Canadian Forces, diplomat in Bangkok and Brussels (NATO), and Canada’s Permanent Representative to the Office of the United Nations and to the United Nations Conference on Disarmament in Geneva (2007-2011).

Crimea’s Status

According to an agreement signed in the 1990s, insofar as Crimea’s legislation kept in line with Ukraine’s, it was an autonomous region with control over agriculture, tourism, infrastructure and parliament. The Russian annexation of Crimea in 2014 was illegal, in part because the agreement of Crimea keeping its legislation tied to Ukraine was violated. The international community, primarily countries in Europe and North America, do not recognize this annexation as legitimate, and their reasons are not just rooted in legislation. Professor Walter Dorn talked of this annexation over a phone interview, in August 2016:

Russia’s annexation of Crimea is illegal, and not just because of that autonomous government status but also because of the Budapest memorandum where Russia declared they would respect the territorial integrity of Ukraine – and this was 1994 – in exchange for Ukraine giving up its nuclear missiles. Then you have that going back to the breakup of the Soviet Union, and there was no mention there would be an exception for Ukraine and you go back to 1956 [roughly] when Khrushchev gave Crimea to Ukraine, so you have a much larger foundation for those things.

Dr. Dorn continued by explaining why he thought Russia is ignoring these developments from the 1990s: “…it is such a popular move [for Russia] and Putin and many Russians feel that Khrushchev’s gift to Ukraine was not a valid one.” This disregard for agreements brings into question Russian perceived imperialist ambitions.

Ambassador Marius Grinius provided a historically appreciative approach to explaining Russian imperialism over email interviews throughout August and November of 2016. According to Ambassador Grinius, “Czarist Russia controlled its empire’s periphery, as did the Soviet Union, as does Russia now [and] Mother Russia also exhibits some existential paranoia, given Napoleon’s invasion and later Hitler’s.” These invasions hint at a feeling of anxiety that could explain Russia’s annexation of Crimea by force; Russia may have feared Crimean integration into the West and possibly NATO.

According to Prof. Dorn, “it depends a lot on the lures and in the case of Vladimir Putin, he does have a sense of nostalgia for the Soviet empire and even the Russian empire of the Czars and so we are seeing that side of his character but intrinsically they are like every other nation.” Ambassador Grinius believes this conflict to be part of the “ebb and flow of geopolitical power, both military and economic, and hence global influence, prestige and ultimately dominance.” Regarding this sense of dominance, there may be a degree of exceptionalism towards one’s country. Professor Dorn made a point in saying that “…in the long run, every nation can feel a certain amount of exceptionalism, but if it comes to the detriment of others, then it’s not for the better good of the world and we have to make sure that those tendencies are checked.” When asked how the West approaches foreign policy concerns related to Russia, Ambassador Grinius noted there may be “some nostalgia for old-fashioned containment in some NATO circles, [however] this is no longer a viable possibility.” Questions remain to be answered about how violent tendencies or breaches of diplomatic behaviour will be checked.

The Role of Technology and Security Planning

Professor Dorn is a leading figure in innovations with peacekeeping technologies and was part of an expert panel in 2014 on UN peacekeeping technologies. Ukraine was not discussed at this panel, but Dr. Dorn was able to meet representatives of the Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe (OSCE), which has a mission in Ukraine. With them, Dr. Dorn discussed the deployment of unmanned aerial vehicles (UAVs) in eastern Ukraine, where Russian rebels and covert soldiers were (and still are) fighting Ukrainian armed forces, with US support.

UAVs are a controversial topic but can nevertheless be useful and practical under the right circumstance. Dr. Dorn defined this circumstance as “times of direct threat to civilian lives and to the mission [or] the mandate of the mission.” He went on to say “we’ve yet to find a balance, so the greater the threat the more you have a right to override privacy provisions…particularly if you are considering the privacy of the aggressors.” The next question then is how to measure and judge these times of “immanent threat.” According to Ambassador Grinius, one way to do so is to consider the worst-case scenario:

Military advice [to politicians] must include actions and reactions to each step [and] this is where the importance of imaginative, creative lateral thinking comes in to find ways to resolve a security situation before it morphs into that worst-case scenario.

It is necessary to consider the worst-case scenario just as it is necessary to innovate peacekeeping technologies. However, with further technological development, a risk of over-reliance emerges. According to Professor Dorn, UN technologies are taking terabytes of information on a daily basis and while that is a challenge, it also poses a risk. “If they fail, then you’re in a more difficult situation,” Dr. Dorn noted. This lack of 100% reliability in technology sheds light on the importance of communication and diplomacy, and how the human element of co-existence should be emphasized.

Furthermore, we must consider the contradiction in trying to improve global relations with the “enemy” while at the same time improving security. This situation is known as the “security dilemma” and exists when your increased defences cause your opponents to increase their defences, thereby creating a cycle and an environment in which your improved security becomes a threat to the enemy (this dilemma makes peace negotiations challenging). Dr. Dorn believes a way to resolve this situation is to have international law and “stronger treaties with greater verification and compliance mechanisms.” Dr. Dorn went on to describe how we are to rely not on “military might,” but rather on an international system that is rooted in a much stronger UN and a much stronger culture of international cooperation.

Canada and Ukraine: Economics

Both Prime Minister Trudeau and President Poroshenko have recently forged a free trade deal between Ukraine and Canada. Ambassador Grinius sees this deal as “a very modest proposal but perhaps an important symbolic gesture of greater Canadian support for Ukraine.” According to Dr. Dorn, Ukrainians are seeking “a means to pull themselves out of a dark economic and security hole so they are eager to cooperate with Canada.” However, Ukraine has been experiencing problems of corruption, so Ambassador Grinius does not believe that Canadian businesses will “rush in with lots of investment.”

Whether or not Russia tolerates the free trade deal is beside the point because, as Dr. Dorn noted, “[the deal] is not going to involve a [large] number of arms and…Russia will just have to accept it because this world is moving towards freer trade… [at least] that’s a general trend over the last decade.” Additionally, Russia has bigger priorities and concerns over the sanctions imposed by the West. Furthermore, in light of the events in Crimea, the EU is wondering how they will proceed with Ukraine. Therefore, while the free trade deal with Canada is of importance, Canada has less of a direct impact on the economics of the situation.

Knowledge of Conflicts and Moving Forward

With Donald Trump as America’s new President there are speculations about American involvement in NATO, as well as about the future of US-Russian relations. Ambassador Grinius commented on the possibility of closer ties between the two nations. “This may turn out to be a zero-sum game, with Ukraine losing and Crimea becoming de facto and de jure under Russia’s control,” the Ambassador said.

Ambassador Grinius also talked about Canada’s continuing relationship with Russia. He said that Canada wants a re-set of relations with Russia and that “cooperation in the Arctic will be a good signal of future trends.” Arctic cooperation is one critical factor in maintaining diplomatic relations between the two countries. However, while Arctic cooperation and knowledge of other militarily fragile areas in Europe (such as the Baltic region) is important, the “new Great Game,” as phrased by Ambassador Grinius, is between China and the US, with Russia playing a supporting role to China. There will be additional post-Brexit challenges, post-German and French elections as well as the unfolding of developments and events in Turkey.

Conflict does not exist in a vacuum. Regional peace and global peace are inextricably linked. It is therefore imperative, as Dr. Dorn emphasized, that we focus on solving “regional problems so they don’t come back to haunt us.”

Eric Gallo-Miscevich is in his third year of studying international development as an undergraduate student at Queen’s University. He recently returned from China, where he studied in the School of Social Development and Public Policy at Fudan University in Shanghai. He is currently a Junior Research Fellow at International Channels for Diplomacy and is interested in international affairs and the further development of globalization. Eric enjoys traveling and taking photographs, as well as taking his road bicycle out on long voyages.