The Brunswickan sat down with Dr. Lee Windsor this week to discuss the current conflict in Ukraine and Canada’s involvement in it.
Dr. Windsor is an associate professor of History at UNB and is the Eaton Chair in Canadian army studies at The Gregg Centre for the study of War and Society. Windsor is a veteran and specialist in Canadian military history.
Windsor explained that Canadian soldiers had previously been stationed in Ukraine, but had since left.
“The prime minister ordered them to withdraw during the diplomatic crisis that preceded the Russian invasion…. The force that was there, they were instructors and trainers in something called Operation Unifier. That was launched after 2014 when Russia launched its campaign to seize Crimea in the Eastern provinces of Ukraine that border Russia. That whole crisis precipitated the one that we’re seeing today.”
Windsor explained that the mission of Canadian soldiers in Ukraine was to train the Ukrainian army on advanced skills in organising large groups of people and more modern communications technology to synchronise and coordinate their efforts.
As for Canadian forces currently in Europe, Windsor elaborates on NATO commitments: “We have a Canadian contingent in Latvia, there’s British troops in Estonia, there’s Americans in Poland, all there to support NATO’s Eastern European allies and really they’re there to serve as a deterrent to make sure that after 2014 Russia didn’t take the same kind of action in the Baltic independent nations that they did in Ukraine.”
Many people have been expressing confusion about NATO support, or lack thereof, for Ukraine. Many students are unsure whether or not Ukraine is a member of NATO, or if NATO even helps Ukraine at all. Windsor explains the NATO response in Ukraine and why they have denied the requests for air support.
“NATO and the United Nations policy in cases of war between nations for 75 years, through the Cold War, has been really focused on containing conflicts. You can’t keep peace between two countries that are openly hostile with each other. You go make peace after they have decided to make peace, but while they’re at war you try to contain it so it can’t escalate because an escalation could lead to a nuclear exchange.”
Although he doesn’t want to try and predict the future, Dr. Windsor does not see the current conflict resulting in nuclear war. He explains, “because both sides are aware of the risk of nuclear war they will do most anything in their power to avoid it, because they recognize that no one wins a nuclear exchange.”
So what can we expect with this ever-evolving conflict?
“The sad reality that we may see is that this turns into a long protracted war of rockets and artillery much like the Russians waged in Syria… we’re already seeing things move in that direction here and that would indeed be a great tragedy.”
With all that is going on in the world, many have become increasingly disheartened.
“I find hope in the small acts of people to affect positive change for the good of all humanity. Even in this struggle in Ukraine we see tremendous acts of humanitarian goodwill coming from all corners of the Earth.”
To all those feeling helpless given the current situation, Windsor offers this advice.
“You can affect positive change. People now more than ever have the power to get involved and affect positive change by giving to others,” Windsor said. “You don’t have to do it all yourself. There’s lots of people on this planet – no one has to take it all on alone. So for those feeling anxious about these situations today it’s worth thinking about influencing the small space you can and not worrying too much about that which you can’t control.”
So what can be done locally to affect positive change? Dr. Windsor has a suggestion: becoming more actively involved with the local Syrian refugee community.
“There’s a large refugee community right here in Fredericton,” said Windsor. “They continue to need assistance and need engagement…. Assisting with refugee communities is perhaps the best thing that anyone could do.”
Canada can expect Ukrainian refugees to reach our shores in the coming months but there is much to be done to help Canada’s current refugees in the meantime.
“We can make a big difference by being good humans to other humans.”