The previous week saw increased diplomatic efforts on the part of Ukraine's President Petro Poroshenko to secure Western help for Ukraine, and contain and reverse the Russian aggression. Despite the wide media coverage of Poroshenko's visits to Ottawa and Washington, DC, the results of the visits are still puzzling observers around the world. The opinions about the results range from the visits being a complete failure, which undermined Ukraine's chances to preserve its independence, to them being an utter success which will make Putin capitulate.
The optics of both visits were up to the highest standards. In both capitals, President Poroshenko was duly greeted as the democratically elected president of the freedom-loving nation which has won the fight for its rights and is currently at war with a treacherous invader. During his speeches in the Canadian Parliament and at the Joint Session of the U.S. Congress, President Poroshenko was given more than 50 standing ovations, many of which lasted for minutes.
The speeches in the Canadian Parliament by Prime Minister Stephen Harper and President Poroshenko resembled those at a large family's reunion. Stephen Harper talked about the “kinship” between Canada and Ukraine, and said that Ukraine's problems are a “family matter” for Canada. Petro Poroshenko called Canada “the most Ukrainian country in the world outside Ukraine” and Ukraine “the most Canadian country outside Canada”. The meeting with the Ukrainian Diaspora after the speech in Ottawa, attended by the New Pathway, was very emotional. In his speech, Mr. Poroshenko said that he felt at home in Canada, to the wild cheer of up to 1,000 Ukrainian Canadians who gathered on Parliament Hill.
President Poroshenko's speech in the U.S. Congress was well-structured and full of persuasive details and powerful points. It was arguably the best speech given by a Ukrainian official in more than 50 years, at home or abroad. Whether he wrote the speech himself or just oversaw the work of speechwriters, it showed the intellectual ability of his administration, which is quite high by any standard, not just against the background of the previous administration's inaptitude.
Many people, who were present or listened to both Mr. Poroshenko's speeches, noted his sincerity. Anyone who has followed Petro Poroshenko since he appeared on the Ukrainian political scene some 15 years ago, would now notice a marked change from a boring, awkwardly speaking bureaucrat to a passionate and deeply concerned statesman.
This newly acquired passion was also apparent during Mr. Poroshenko's last week's interview with the Ukrainian media – his voice trembled for a good part of the interview, especially when he was talking about the particularities of the war in the Donbas. This kind of attitude is apparently due to the fact that Petro Poroshenko's elder son Oleksiy has volunteerly served as a head of the artillery crew on the front lines.
Mr. Poroshenko's speech at the U.S. Congress was also much tougher than many of his preious speeches. After the NATO Summit in Wales in early September, he was critisized by some for his “dovish stance” which may have discouraged the West from more direct support for Ukraine and stricter measures against Russia. This time, the President was suprisingly direct. Making a clear reference to the non-lethal supplies, which the U.S. have provided Ukraine with, he said “one cannot win a war with blankets!” and asked for lethal weapons. He also “strongly encouraged” that the United States give Ukraine special, non-allied partner status.
He got nothing on both accounts, at least this is what appears from Poroshenko's own statements. After the visit, in his interview with CNN, Petro Poroshenko said that President Obama's answer to the plea for a major non-NATO ally status for Ukraine was a no because Ukraine already has a special status as a strategic security partner of the United States. He also said in the interview that he was not disappointed and that Ukraine received more than it asked. Related to weapons supplies, Mr. Poroshenko, in his interview for the Ukrainian media, said that Ukraine has received “defensive” and apparently non-lethal weapons from Western countries, and that these suppies have been sufficient for the country at this stage because it has enough lethal weapons.
These contradictory statements have created confusion over the results of Mr. Poroshenko's visit to the U.S. The confusion might be the result of the poor preparation of the visit. Or Mr. Poroshenko just used tough language in the U.S. Congress to pressure the American administraion and is currently not giving away all the information about the results. The signs, which confirm the latter explanation, include recent statements by Polish officials that Poland is ready to sell weapons to Ukraine. Another positive outcome of the talks in Washington, DC is that America now plans to participate in the multi-lateral negotiations among Ukraine, the EU, Russia and the terrorists, which should strengthen the Ukrainian negotiating position.
As to the results of Petro Poroshenko's visit to Canada, it was obvious that he did not come to Canada for weapons or military help. The $200 million loan for economic stabilization, which was signed during the visit, was a good match for the $1 billion in financial guarantees from the U.S., agreed upon in Washington, DC, considering the sizes of the Canadian and U.S. economies. In total, according to the MP Ted Opitz's office, since the beginning of the year, Canada has provided Ukraine with $221 million in loans and $54 million in grants and assistance.
The New Pathway has interviewed Mr. Opitz, who was a participant in the negotiations with President Poroshenko, about the results of the visit:
NP: President Poroshenko in his speech mentioned the Free Trade Agreement with Canada. The fifth round of negotiations ended in September 2012, and Minister Ed Fast discussed it during his visit to Ukraine in May. Has anything happened after this?
TO: The meetings in Ukraine were very productive and that is going forward. However, you have to remember that, after the last stage of the negotiations, there is a new sheriff in town and his name is Petro Poroshenko. In his discussion with the Prime Minister, it was absolutely clear that we absolutely wish to pursue this trade deal. However, like all free trade deals, much depends on the details. Ukraine is not going to sign a carte blanche trade deal for the sake of it, they have to be fair for both sides and we have to consider various industries and the impact on both of our economies. They do take time to hammer out. As long as both parties are absolutely committed to the process than they do proceed fairly well and quickly. I am fairly confident that there is renewed motivation for getting this done quickly and in particular it will ramp up after the Parliamentary elections.
NP: Will Canada provide more military assistance to Ukraine?
TO: All of that is in the discussion phase. You heard President Poroshenko – he was very clear and elegant in describing Canada’s help to Ukraine’s military, the ballistic helmets and vests and ballistic glasses. When I was serving, I actually didn’t have any. And critically, first aid kits that are essential to a soldier’s survival.
We have deployed a couple of mentors during the ongoing military exercises in Ukraine. This is critical since Canadian soldiers are very expert and we have a tremendous amount of training and understand doctrine. We are a very professional army and what Ukraine needs is to professionalize its army: its officer’s corps and senior non-commissioned corps. And being a military trainer myself and having worked as a curriculum planner and a commanding officer I understand the value of good mentorship and advise. We also have a Ukrainian coronel attending a most senior course titled “National Securities Program” at the Canadian Forces College in Toronto. That officer, who is from the General Staff, will in the course of this year gain a tremendous amount of experience and will network with colleagues around the world. They do take a series of field study exercises including one coming up in Ottawa in October to be able to understand and see how our military functions work within the government. James Bezan and I are promoting much broader training initiatives with the Ukrainian army and this is being worked on as we speak, and of course additional equipment as requested by Ukraine.
NP: What do you think about President Poroshenko's speech in the U.S. Congress?
TO: President Poroshenko – I am hugely impressed by him. He is very smart and is a very organized thinker. He articulates himself very well but the United States is crucial to all of us. The US is a critical member of NATO and they need to be participating in the process and NATO needs to react as a block in order to be effective in helping Ukraine. That is all coming along.
NP: Do you think that if the US leads the way and provides lethal weapons, Canada will join them?
TO: You have to understand that what will be provided will be different. You have to provide things that Ukraine can deal with and support with its logistics capabilities. It’s an army that has been allowed to whither because of the inattention that has been paid to procurement, training and making sure the capabilities of the Ukrainian army were strong. Compared to where they started a few months ago to today – the Ukrainian army has bounced back tremendously. I think all Ukrainians should be very proud of how their military has responded to this crisis. We will examine these things on an issue to issue basis and we will work with our Alliance partners to respond in a cohesive way. We will see what this meeting with Poroshenko and Obama brings.
NP: What do you think about the Poroshenko Peace Plan?
TO: You have to de-construct it. This is only a three year deal – it is not permanent and the people responsible for the most heinous crimes will not be exempt; these include the people responsible for the downing of MH17. I am very encouraged by Poroshenko’s leadership who is focused on servicing and leading his people. He is trying to save as many lives as possible and trying to save the territorial integrity of Ukraine. I am 100% sure that he is acting in the best interest of all Ukrainians.
At the end of the day, this is only going to be successful if Putin plays ball. For example, in Crimea he is surging troops there and this concerns us all. There are a lot of things that are not clear and this needs to be taken into account.
The other thing is that Russia’s information war has been very affective. And this is something we have to be very concerned about. I am very concerned about the Russia Today channel. People that are as victimized as Ukrainians with disinformation are the Russians because they are forced to deal with a very narrow line of media availability. They aren’t getting the full story. It’s understandable because the Russian oligarchs, including Putin are the owners of the Russian media.
These are tough days for the Ukrainian people and we have to be focused on the people there. We all live comfortable lives here and there are credible numbers of displaced people there, things are not easy on them. I applaud the Diaspora here. As you saw with the Gala that raised $350,000 and the Canada Ukraine Foundation did a great job. The Diaspora should be very proud of itself and the contributions that they are making for remaining united with Ukraine.