The political tide of war is turning, perhaps taking Ukraine with it
We have been warned – repeatedly recently – that the Russian invasion of Ukraine represents a turning point in history.
And while heightened political rhetoric may have seemed good over the past few years, it is very likely that this week — after a series of events in Kiev, Moscow, Washington, and even Ottawa — we have truly reached that tipping point.
We may not like where things are headed.
In the wake of the British victory in the war-ravaged wasteland of El Alamein in western Egypt in early November 1942 (and the concurrent US-led invasion of North Africa), Winston Churchill stood before an audience at the London Palace for the Mayor’s Day Luncheon.
It was a watershed moment in a war that had, up to that point, been going very poorly for the Western democracies and the Soviet Union – something we tend to forget in the fog of World War II nostalgia and self-congratulation.
Churchill, the warlord to whom Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky is often compared, acknowledged El Alamein as an inflection point.
He told his audience: “Now this is not the end. It is not even the beginning of the end. But it may be the end of the beginning.”
There is perhaps no better way to describe where we are today.
As it turned out, Churchill was right. There were still a number of major turning points to follow, including the Battle of Stalingrad and D-Day. But the tide has certainly turned.
It’s hard to walk away from this week’s events without the same vague feeling that something momentous has changed.
There was a lot to take stock of: Zelensky’s firing of his top military commander, the stunning collapse of the US military aid package, the growing gridlock in the US Congress, public opinion polls in Canada showing a growing number of Conservatives believe Ukraine is getting too much aid – and finally the propaganda. Feat of strength An interview conducted by former Fox News host Tucker Carlson with Russian President Vladimir Putin.
“We are at an inflection point,” said Dominique Arel, chair of Ukrainian studies at the University of Ottawa. “But I would say that change is happening in the (US) Congress.”
Replacing Ukraine’s long-serving supreme commander, Gen. Valery Zalozny, with the older, Soviet-trained colonel, Oleksandr Syrsky, is important, Ariel said, but pales in comparison to the political machinations in Washington. He said it was “difficult to see a way out” of the political impasse in Washington as the United States leaves the impression that it is about to abandon Ukraine.
The release of €50 billion (US$54 billion) in EU aid was a bright spot – one that Arel said suggests that although we are at a turning point, this does not mean we are heading towards a disaster in the war. in Ukraine.
“We are heading towards months…a full year of uncertainty and greater and greater suffering,” he said.
“I’m not talking about the possibility of a complete collapse of the front. No, I don’t think so. But the increasing bombing of cities is a source of concern.”
In a statement issued on Friday, Cirsky indicated that he intends to take a tougher approach to the war and that his immediate goals are to improve the rotation of troops on the front lines and harness the power of new technology.
Oleksandr Musienko, head of the Center for Military and Legal Studies in Kiev, said replacing Zalozny would not lead to a loss of confidence in Zelensky’s government within the military.
“Someone may be disappointed with this decision, but I think more soldiers are waiting for reforms in the army,” Musienko said. “In general, I think everything will be fine.”
Mosienko said he and others are watching to see who is appointed to the new top general’s team, because that will shape the direction of the war more than the political debate in Ukraine — where polls show Zalozny has become a more popular and trusted figure than the previous president. president.
Canadian support for Ukraine has begun to wane
In Canada, meanwhile, the Angus Reid Institute released a survey this week indicating that Canadians’ support for helping the war effort in Ukraine is weakening — especially among Conservatives.
Nearly a quarter of Canadians believe Canada provides “a lot of support” to Ukraine in its fight against Russia, compared to 13 per cent who were asked the same question in May 2022.
Among Canadians who voted Conservative in the last election, the proportion who say Canada is doing too much to help Ukraine has more than doubled — from 19 per cent in May 2022 to 43 per cent now.
Angus Reid’s findings reflect what is happening in American politics. Recent research by Pew found that 48% of Republican voters believe their country provides “too much” aid to Ukraine.
Ariel said there is still a very important distinction between Canadian and American political opinion. Although there is a large Ukrainian diaspora in the United States, it does not have the same political influence as the Ukrainian community in Canada.
Between six and a dozen elections in Canada — mostly in Ontario and Western Canada — are competitive and have Ukrainian-Canadian constituencies that could make their political weight felt, Ariel said.
“So, one might think (in a close election) that this is a check on the Conservative Party of Canada going the way of the Republican Party on this geopolitical issue,” he said.
This might explain what The Globe and Mail It was referred to in an op-ed this week as Conservative Leader Pierre Poilievre’s “evasive bombast” when asked if he agreed that Canada was giving too much aid to Ukraine.
It’s not in Poilievre’s interest to answer that question, especially given (as the Globe also notes) how Carlson, a self-professed admirer of Russia, has a loyal following among some conservatives in Canada.
There has been a lot of commentary and analysis of Carlson’s interview with Putin already. However, for Ariel and other experts, there is one moment in particular that stands out in the Russian president’s long history lesson.
“First of all, this was not an interview, because Putin cannot be contradicted,” Ariel said. But what was really interesting to him, he said, was how Putin “came dangerously close to saying that Germany had the right — or at least the reason — to invade Poland in 1939.”
He said the remark made him think, “Wow, okay.”
“One step behind the Soviets”
Soviet history and propaganda have always been very selective about its Nazi narratives. I often forget, for example, that before the German invasion in 1941, Moscow and Berlin were allies who divided independent Poland.
“He (Putin) said that almost yesterday, and that goes one step — one step — beyond the Soviets,” Ariel said. “Soviet propaganda will never reach this level.”
Another expert — who may also have sensed the turning point and was reacting to the changing political rhetoric — issued a report on Friday that emphasized in the starkest terms what a Russian victory in Ukraine would mean.
“The war in Ukraine is primarily a war for control of people, not territory,” wrote Carolina Hurd of the Washington-based Institute for the Study of War.
“Russian President Vladimir Putin has invaded Ukraine twice, not because he desires Ukraine’s land, but because he seeks to control its people. Putin’s project, clearly expressed in a 2021 article he published to justify the large-scale 2022 invasion, is to destroy Ukraine’s political identity.” distinct social, linguistic and religious characteristics.”
In her report, The Kremlin occupation playbookHurd said Putin “seeks to make real his false ideological conviction that Ukrainians are confusing Russians with an invented identity, language and history that a small, Western-backed minority seeks to impose on the majority of the population.”
Hurd pointed the way to the end with a “virtual” Russian victory and issued a warning:
“The Russian war against Ukraine has always been a war to eliminate Ukrainian nationalism, and therefore it cannot end until Kiev itself is transformed into a Russian city and all of Ukraine is a Russian province.”