Two countries: similar, yet so different - Keith Roulston editorial
As the first anniversary of the Russian invasion of Ukraine was marked last week, I couldn’t help but think what a similar position Canada has been in at times. situated as a small country beside a giant.
Canadians have lived at peace with their powerful neighbour for a long time, but the very fact there is a Canada is because of the fear of our neighbour 150 years ago. Canada had been invaded once by the Americans before the U.S. Revolution as Americans sought to remove a possible rebel from its northern border and Canada was seen mostly as French-Canadien, but the invasion failed.
During the War of 1812-1814 the Americans again tried, and failed, to “free” Canada from British rule. By then, thousands of Americans, loyal to Britain, had moved to the Maritime provinces, Quebec and what is now Ontario and were not tempted by the American experience.
During the 1837 Rebellion, Canadian rebels from Quebec and Ontario had sought to fight from the American side of the border, with American help, but the attempt to overturn the British government in Canada failed.
And so, after the American Civil War ended in 1865, Canadian governments expected similar unrest as hundreds of thousands of American troops, many of them with close ties to Ireland, were turned loose. Premiers such as Ontario’s John A. Macdonald, sought a confederation of provinces to scare off invaders. It worked. There were some raids into Canada, but no successful invasions.
The history between Canada and the U.S. has mostly been peaceful since then, despite the fact Canada joined both World Wars from the beginning, well before our American neighbours. On the other hand, Canada refused to get drawn into American misadventures like the Vietnam War. There were momentary disputes when Prime Minister John Diefenbaker did not go along with U.S. President John F. Kennedy over the blockade of Cuba to stop Russian posting of atomic missiles that could easily invade the U.S. without warning.
The situation between Russia and Ukraine is much more troubled. Ukraine, whether it liked it or not, was under the control of the Russian Czars before World War I and then joined the Union of Socialist Soviet Republics after the Communist revolution at the end of the war. When that fell apart, Ukraine gained independence in 1991, and declared itself neutral.
Russia, after the rise of current President Vladimir Putin, attempted to re-establish the former Soviet Union (but without taking away the wealth of the aristocrats who had swept up Soviet-era businesses) and unilaterally annexed Ukraine’s Crimean Peninsula; and pro-Russian unrest culminated in a war between Russian-backed separatists and government forces in eastern Ukraine. Russia later launched a full-scale invasion of Ukraine in February, 2022.
Russian leadership, blinded by its own sense of history, thought Ukraine would quickly fall to Russian invaders. It didn’t. While there may have been some areas of the country which were pro-Russian, vast areas were independent and ready to fight for continuing their independence.
And so we find ourselves a year later, with Russia holding even less of Ukraine than it did a few weeks into the invasion. Meanwhile Ukrainians, assisted with weapons provided by Western nations who don’t want to see a young democracy overwhelmed by a major, undemocratic dictatorship, fight on. They have paid a terrible price with many towns and cities horribly devastated by Russia’s missiles, shells and bombs, mere fractions of what they once were.
Millions of Ukrainians have fled to Poland, Hungary, other European neighbours and Canada and the U.S. Their country is devastated and will take years to rebuild, even if peace returns.
Meanwhile, the Russian people are fed untruths about the situation by a media controlled by the dictators. Few realize that 15,000 Russian lives have been sacrificed (that’s the official version – other versions say the troops killed and wounded in Ukraine is approaching 200,000). They see pictures of damage in Ukraine as signs of victory, not the expense of wasted effort by their government (although some Russians have abandoned their delusive country).
It’s a deadly, expensive mess. We western nations continue to spend billions on weapons to support Ukraine and our economy is suffering inflation, in part, because of it. Russia is paying a heavy price for its leaders’ delusions of rebuilding their country’s past glory. The Ukrainian people suffer the most of all, some of their country occupied, all of it endangered.
We Canadians may have similarities, as a small country beside a giant, but we share little of the cost.