What do we know about the Ukraine?
It is about the size of Saskatchewan with a population of 46 million; about 25% more than Canada’s. It is bordered by Russia on the north and east with Crimea and the Black Sea to the south. The eastern Crimea port city of Kerch has a 25 minute/4km ferry service to the Russian port of Kavkaz. The country is deeply polarized on the Dnieper River (through the capital Kiev) with the east pro-Russia and the west pro-west. It is of interest that Nikita Khrushchev, the fourth leader of the Soviet Union, was born in Kalinovka which is very close to the Ukrainian eastern border. He had been head of the Organizational Department of the Ukrainian Party's Central Committee. This is not insignificant for eastern Ukrainians who have a deeply held belief in the ‘fatherland’.
Ukraine is in dire financial straits. It owes $1.6 billion (USD) to Russia’s Gazprom in fuel costs. Ukraine obtains more than half its gas from Russia. Gazprom has threatened to raise prices unless payment is made. Ukraine is negotiating a $15 billion bailout with the IMF.
(Infographic from http://www.businessinsider.com/russia-wants-ukraine-to-pay-fuel-debt-2014-3)
The Ukraine’s military is considered to be a reasonably potent force. Most of its equipment is Russian and of the same vintage as what the Russians would likely use in any military action. However, that relative potency is highly diluted by the reality that there have been sizable cuts in the Ukraine defence budget. The equipment inventory of tanks, artillery, ships and planes is mostly in storage and/or poorly maintained. The Air Force’s 221 combat aircraft are considerably outnumbered by Russia’s 1389. And the Ukraine’s Navy has but 17 old ships compared to Russia’s more modern Black Sea fleet of 25.
The challenge for the Ukraine will be in the demographics and dispersion of its military force. The military is as deeply polarized as the country in its pro-Russia or pro-west views. The head of the Navy, who was just appointed this past weekend, has already defected to the Russian side. What other ‘defections’ or failures to obey orders are in the wind? Even more troublesome will be those that are in key military positions who are feeding the Russians with intelligence on an hourly basis?
There will be a push to provide western aid, both monetarily and militarily to the new country. In the end, Russia loses.
There are more than a million Canadians of Ukrainian descent. The majority are in Ontario (337,000) with Alberta (333,000) and BC (198,000) next in line. Remembering that ‘all politics is local’ and that we have an election in about 18 months, it is informative that the urban concentrations of Ukrainian Canadians are in Edmonton (145k), Toronto (123k), and Winnipeg (110k) all of which have some Liberal/NDP history. Calgary, the home riding of the Prime Minister and other key Conservatives, has 77,000 Canadians of Ukrainian descent.
The Canadian Armed Forces has had a 20-year program of military training assistance with Ukraine under the under the auspices of the Military Training and Cooperation Programme. On any given day, there are over 20 Ukrainian military personnel in Canada on language training, at staff colleges, or attending other courses.
What can Canada do?
We can and have shown our solidarity with the US and other G7 members. And we can apply sanctions. All good stuff but effective? … not likely. In short order, Russia will control Crimea and will probably have a firm grip of the pro-Russian eastern half of the Ukraine. In the months to come, we will likely see the birth of a new, pro-western country west of the Dnieper. Russia will expand to include the territory east of the Dnieper and have complete control of the northeastern part of the Black Sea. There will be a push to provide western aid, both monetarily and militarily to the new country. In the end, Russia loses.