As the Russian invasion of Ukraine draws widespread condemnation, questions continue to swirl around possible outcomes.
“We’re looking at a pretty clear act of aggression that’s taking place – the invasion of a sovereign state by another,” said Dr. Peter Stoett, dean of the Faculty of Social Sciences and Humanities at Ontario Tech University, in an interview with Durham Radio News (DRN). “It’s been, I think, primarily motivated by the will of [Russian President] Vladimir Putin and his desire to re-establish the grandeur of the Russian Empire.”
“There are other causes we can talk about, of course, and this has been simmering for quite some time within Ukraine,” he added. “There was an annexation, more or less, of Crimea in 2014.”
“There’s lots of precedence for great powers doing this sort of thing,” said Stoett, mentioning the American invasion of Iraq in 2003. “But it’s quite stunning that it’s occurring now, and then it’s occurring, of course, on the edge of Europe as well.”
Stoett argues the reasoning could be personal in nature to Putin. “He’s looking back now,” he said. “He’s one of the wealthiest people on Earth. I don’t think it’s a big secret that the Russian governance structure does, to some extent, resemble a kleptocracy – meaning that there’s a lot of connections going on, illegal activities and so forth. And yet at the same time, here’s a person who’s got multimillion dollar mansions around the world and has all sorts of fantastic wealth. And I think frankly, that’s not enough.”
“He’s looking at his legacy,” he continued. “He wants to leave, perhaps, an impression on history much like some of the greats, including [Tsar] Peter [the Great] and also including perhaps Stalin.”
“I think he’s thinking also about the military,” he added. “The Russian military is fairly large as we know. […] It’s sort of like you’ve got a very highly expensive vehicle sitting in the garage now and you want to take [it] out for a drive now and then. He wants to prove its worth. And this is an opportunity perhaps for him to make sure that the military knows he’s very supportive of them.”
“He might be afraid of democracy spreading into Russia,” he noted. “That’s a very common theme, now, that’s getting pushed. And we know that his anti-democratic reflexes are very strong. He’s jailed opposition leaders. He’s had them poisoned.”
How Canada will react
Stoett predicts Canada’s actions will be influenced by its NATO allies. “I don’t think it’s going to mean troops on the ground,” he said. “Joe Biden’s made it clear that the United States will not put troops on the ground. I don’t see Canada doing that in the absence of an American commitment to do the same.”
“That being said, we have sent additional troops to the surrounding area,” he noted. “Canada certainly could contribute in terms of logistics, more military supplies.”
The effects on the average Canadian will be varied.
“Part of this war’s going to be fought on the internet,” he said. “There’s already a notorious record of cyber warfare being waged from Russia. And I think that this will amplify in the immediate weeks to follow.”
“Watch your internet connections closely – I’ll put it that way,” warned Stoett.
“I’d say that the price of gas is going to be quite high, given that the cost of a barrel of oil is passing $100 now,” he added. “This is creating a sort of a panic in supply chain resources around the world – there’s no question about that. It’s very intricate, the complexity of the Russian-European relationship.”
“The Canadian-Russian relationship, of course, is in tatters right now,” he said. “We have many Canadians living abroad. We have to worry about them.”
“And of course, there are many Russians and Ukrainians living in Canada,” he noted. “My heart goes out to them, and the ones that are worried about their families.”
“Ultimately, this is a diplomatic challenge – yet another for Justin Trudeau and the Liberal government, but Canadians as well,” he said.
Russia and China
Stoett argues that recent discussions at the United Nations have been largely united against Putin’s actions, although Russia’s power over the U.N. Security Council could complicate things.
“The wild-card, I think, is China,” he added. “A few weeks previous to this, China and Russia signed a friendship pact, and there was quite a bit of fanfare around that. I don’t know, personally, what China’s going to do in the longer term. I know in the short term that they haven’t condemned [the invasion] to my knowledge but neither have they approved it.”
“Both of these countries, Russia and China, are permanent members of the Security Council,” he noted. “They can veto anything that gets done at the U.N. level. We can forget about a coordinated U.N. action here against this – unless they take it to the General Assembly under extraordinary measures, which is unlikely.”
“I think Russia is counting on China’s support,” he said. “Russia-Chinese trade is massive, especially in terms of natural resources. China might become the only place that can sell its oil for a while at least.”
“I don’t mean to scaremonger”
The future could be murky. “That’s the agonizing question right now, is ‘how contained will this be?’” said Stoett. “I think in certain ways, it’s already become a very, very international war.”
He notes that ‘World Wars’ are typically defined as involving every continent. “I don’t think you’ve got that at this stage, [although] it is of course possible,” he said.
However, if other countries move beyond the sanctions and military supplies and interfere more directly, he notes Russia could retaliate. “I don’t mean to scaremonger by saying that,” he said. “It is a possibility; I don’t think it’s an eventuality. I don’t think it’s imminent.”
“When Putin made mention of the Russian nuclear arsenal yesterday, it certainly put a shiver down a lot of people’s spines,” he noted.
“I think unfortunately, [the conflict] probably will be a very deleterious event in the region where it’s occurring,” he said. “But spreading out outside of that, I think right now, is unlikely.”
“You can’t predict these things,” he warned. “If anyone tells you they can, they’re wrong. They can’t. Things could go literally either way.”
Stoett argues opinions will likely vary across Canada.
“I think the typical Canadian citizen has an obligation to not just care deeply about these events because of the tremendous impact it could have on human life, but also, in terms of what our government that represents us is doing abroad,” he said. “And I think there’ll be big differences there. Some people will be very supportive of a very strong approach. Some people will decry that, saying that it’s too pro-American. But ultimately, I think it’s up to the average Canadian citizens to make sure that their politicians are speaking for them on the international stage.”
“Ultimately, are we going to let this take over – this sort of agenda of thought?” he said. “There are so many other issues that Canada’s working on – climate change, disaster relief, assistance and all these things in other parts of the world. And I think we’ve got to make sure that the government doesn’t lose stock of that, that those are still important things we we need to keep working on – as important as this becomes as well.”