Canada & Eastern Europe

At the end of February Stephen Harper referred to Russia as "aggressive." In a throwback to the Cold War, two weeks ago Defense Minister Peter MacKay added that Ottawa will respond to Russian flights in the Arctic by flying Canadian fighter jets near Russian airspace. Recent declarations from the Harper government are the latest installment in a 90-year-old struggle with Russia that should be opposed by most Canadians. Since the end of the Cold War Ottawa has actively pushed against Russian influence in Eastern Europe. Federal government documents uncovered by Canwest in July 2007 explained that Ottawa was trying to be "a visible and effective partner of the United States in Russia, Ukraine and zones of instability in Eastern Europe."

During a July 2007 visit to the Ukraine, Foreign Affairs Minister Peter MacKay said Canada would help provide a "counterbalance" to Russia. "There are outside pressures [on Ukraine], from Russia most notably. … We want to make sure they feel the support that is there for them in the international community." As part of Canada’s "counterbalance" to Russia MacKay announced $16 million in aid to support democratic reform in the Ukraine.

Support for the Ukrainian government follows on the heels of Canada’s role in the western-backed, "colour" revolutions in Eastern Europe, which were largely aimed at weakening Russian influence in the region. An in-depth Globe and Mail article headlined "Agent Orange: Our secret role in Ukraine," detailed some of the ways Canada intervened in the 2004-2005 Ukranian elections.

"Beginning in January 2004 — soon after the success of the Rose Revolution in Georgia, he [Canadian ambassador to the Ukraine, Andrew Robinson] began to organize secret monthly meetings of western ambassadors, presiding over what he called ‘donor coordination’ sessions among 20 countries interested in seeing Mr.[presidential candidate Viktor] Yushchenko succeed. Eventually, he acted as the group’s spokesman and became a prominent critic of the Kuchma government’s heavy handed media control. Canada also invested in a controversial exit poll, carried out on election day by Ukraine’s Razumkov Centre and other groups that contradicted the official results showing Mr. Yanukovich [winning]."

The Canadian embassy gave $30,000 US to Pora, a leading civil society group active in the Orange Revolution. In total Ottawa spent half a million dollars promoting "fair elections" in the Ukraine. The ambassador promised the Ukraine’s lead electoral commissioner a passport (Canadian citizenship) if he did "the right thing." The embassy also paid for 500 election observers from Canada, the largest official delegation from any country (another 500 Ukranian-Canadians came independently). Many of these election observers were far from impartial, according to the Globe.

The first Eastern European "colour" revolution took place in Serbia just over a year after NATO’s 78-day bombing campaign. During NATO’s illegal bombing of Serbia in 1999, 18 Canadian CF-18 jets dropped 530 bombs in 682 sorties — approximately 10 per cent of NATO’s air operations. "One goal of the war against Yugoslavia," noted Tariq Ali, "was to expand NATO to the very frontiers of the former Soviet Union. And that is what they did. The actual needs of the populations in that region were a secondary matter."

Bombing Serbia, which deepened Kosovo’s separation from that country, was the final blow to multiethnic Yugoslavia. The former Yugoslavia’s division into ethnic states was attractive to NATO because it diminished Russian influence in the Mediterranean.

Through its diplomacy and peacekeeping Canada spurred Yugoslavia’s breakup in the 90s. During the Cold War, however, Ottawa took a different tack. At a time when Russia was relatively strong, Canada got close to Yugoslavia as a way to pry it away from the Soviet led Warsaw Pact.

Established in 1955 the Warsaw Pact was a response to NATO, which some believe was a Canadian idea. At the U.N. General Assembly in September 1947 External Affairs Minister Louis St. Laurent warned the floor that if the Security Council’s veto crisis was not resolved countries would establish a NATO-type organization. Canada, along with Britain and the U.S., was part of initial NATO discussions in March 1948 and at the start of 2007, well-known military analyst J. L. Granatstein wrote that NATO is "the alliance to which Canada had devoted perhaps 90 per cent of its military effort since 1949."

Reflected in Ottawa’s support for NATO, immediately after World War II Canadian officials spouted Cold War hysteria despite reports from our ambassador in Moscow that the Soviet elite desired peace with Washington and London. Begun during World War II the Canadian Psychological Warfare Committee continued to operate throughout the Cold War. It beamed Canadian propaganda (through the CBC International Service) to the Soviet Union and other Eastern Bloc countries. According to former Canadian ambassador to Czechoslovakia and Poland and CBC-IS founder, Jack McCordick, the aim of CBC-IS was "to engage in psychological warfare against the communist regimes."

Canada has not only participated in psychological warfare against Russia. Six thousand Canadian troops invaded Russia after the Bolsheviks rose to power in 1917. The war against the Bolsheviks was initially justified as a way to reopen World War I’s Eastern Front (the Bolsheviks signed a peace treaty with Germany). Canadian troops, however, stayed after World War One ended. In fact, 2,700 Canadian troops arrived in the eastern city of Vladivostok on January 5, 1919, two months after the war’s conclusion.

Ninety years ago most working-class Canadian organizations opposed the invasion, arguing that Ottawa acted on behalf of the elite. Unfortunately, the situation has not changed much. Harper’s saber rattling does not benefit ordinary Canadians, average Russians or even the real victims of Russian policy in places like Chechnya.

Instead, the Harper government’s belligerence strengthens the hand of those in Russia and around the world who promote a geo-strategic worldview where the objective is to maximize state power. In this scenario, the interests of common people are set aside in the name of the great game.

Yves Engler is the author of the forthcoming The Black Book of Canadian Foreign Policy. To help organize a talk as part of a book tour in May or June, please e-mail yvesengler[at]hotmail[dot]com.

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