On 17 September, Ukrainian president Petro Poroshenko delivered his address to the Canadian parliament. His speech mostly praised the strength of the Canadian-Ukrainian relationship and thanked Canada for its unwavering support in the ongoing crisis.
Canada is home to approximately 1.2 million people of Ukrainian birth or descent, making Canada a home to the largest Ukrainian population outside of Ukraine, and a significant ally for Ukraine. After going through some key programs between both countries, Poroshenko mentioned in his address that “Canada is probably the most Ukrainian nation outside Ukraine itself… and Ukraine is probably the most Canadian nation after Canada itself.”
One of the many partnerships with Ukraine includes a 2009 contract between the Canadian company, MDA, a global communications and information company, and the National Space Agency of Ukraine (NSAU). MDA is contracted to deliver the national communications satellite system of Ukraine, which is expected to consolidate the informational space in order to provide services for such things as high-speed internet access across the region.
Poroshenko also took the opportunity of mentioning the Canada-Ukraine Parliamentary Program (CUPP). This program is ongoing and has allowed over one thousand students from Ukraine to work as interns at the Canadian Parliament.
The special relationship between both countries has only grown stronger in the face of Russian aggression. Poroshenko expressed the desire of developing additional programs, and thanked Canada for its $1 million commitment to the NATO Trust Fund that should help Ukraine manage its command, control, communications, and computer capabilities.
Early Thursday morning, hours after the president’s visit, two Russian bombers known as ‘Bear’ Bombers came within 50 km of Canada’s coastline, and were intercepted by Canadian CF-18s. It is not unusual for the Russians to fly near Canadian airspace, however the fact that the Bombers entered what is known as the Air Defence Identification Zone is rather provocative and uncommon. It is improbable that such an event is a coincidence following Poroshenko’s address.
The event is most likely a simple but clear demonstration of Moscow’s discontent with Canadian support for Ukraine; it is not a direct aggression. However, it serves to remind us that Canada has its own territorial dispute ongoing in the Arctic. In December 2013, a day after Canada made claims to the North Pole, Russia stepped up its military presence in the region. The Russians have substantially more scientific and military operations devoted to the development of the Arctic than does Canada. Additionally, the fact that Russia has laid a flag on the ocean floor of the North Pole signifies they are serious with their intentions of developing their regional claims in the Arctic.
In light of current events, and with the German newspaper Suddeustche Zeitung reporting that Russian president Vladimir Putin has allegedly privately threatened to put troops in Kyiev, Riga, Vilnius, Tallinn, Warsaw and Bucharest, the crisis is far from any significant de-escalation. For Canada, as a member of NATO and a longstanding partner of Ukraine, having Poroshenko speak to Parliament in these turbulent times has been an opportunity to highlight levels of collaboration between both countries.
With programs such as the telecommunications partnership and the CUPP program, Canada contributes to making Ukraine a more modern and democratic state. From former Governor General Ramon Hnatyshyn to the Ukranian-Canadian hockey legend Wayne Gretzky, many individuals with ties to Ukraine have played significant roles in our own Canadian culture. Ukraine needs the support of Canada as it fights for the freedom to choose its own future and Canada will continue to provide that support.