Zelensky’s plea to close Ukraine’s ‘airspace’ not likely to be taken up: experts
Ottawa was directly presented with what one expert deemed a “pivotal problem” yesterday, amid a packed House for a special address from Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky, who renewed his calls for a NATO-enforced no-fly zone over his country.
And while Foreign Affairs Minister Mélanie Joly drew a “red line” on the matter in a bid to avoid inflaming an “international conflict,” signs emerged this week that Russia’s invasion is turning into a “war of attrition” — which could signal that the writing is on the wall for Russian President Vladimir Putin, according to Andrew Rasiulis, a fellow with the Canadian Global Affairs Institute.
Speaking to Parliament Today, Rasiulis, who specializes in defence and arms control issues, said Zelensky’s “case” for the move would result in NATO members going “into a war with Russia,” meaning “in effect, the Third World War.”
That includes the potential of a nuclear war with mutual assured destruction, said Rasiulis — “which means we all die. That is not an overstatement.”
A retired public servant who once headed up Defence’s central and eastern Europe policy, he acknowledged that was a “blunt” evaluation but an accurate “juxtaposition” that essentially dictates “to save Ukraine, we may have to destroy the world.”
While the plainspoken Zelensky, appearing via video feed, commended a suite of sanctions targeting Putin and his inner circle in recent weeks, he said there remain some “obvious” gaps, including the lack of a no-fly zone imposed by countries like Canada that would require Russian planes to be shot down — a pitch many ally nations have been hesitant to move on in fear of escalating tensions.
NATO members have repeatedly expressed “firm” opposition to that option, leading Rasiulis to predict Ukraine’s allies will continue to “ramp up” sanctions instead. Joly, immediately after Zelensky’s address, said Ottawa would help Ukraine “defend its airspace” and deliver lethal equipment but ruled out a no-fly zone with NATO allies.
“The question then becomes, ‘Where do we go from here?’ And that really depends on what happens over there,” said Rasiulis.
Throughout his address, translated to English, the Ukrainian leader related his country’s grim predicament to how Canada would react if faced with the same acts of aggression — invoking the CN Tower in Toronto and the Ottawa airport as he asked Prime Minister Justin Trudeau to “imagine” those sites being bombed.
“It’s dire straits, but it’s also allowed us to see who our real friends are,” Zelensky said of the war, adding while Canada has been a “reliable partner,” many Ukrainian cities are “not protected just like your cities are protected — Toronto, Vancouver.”
Pointing to children dying amid the invasion, he said he is not “asking for much, but for justice and support to help us defend ourselves and save lives.”
“Please understand how important it is for us to close our airspace from Russian missiles and aircraft. I hope you can increase your efforts and sanctions so they do not have a single dollar to fund their war effort,” Zelensky pleaded to the chamber.
Zelensky spoke to the U.K. Parliament last week and is set to speak to U.S. members of Congress today.
‘Grinding’ will come to a halt eventually
As troops have moved in on several Ukrainian cities over the past three weeks, Putin’s offensive has been “bogged down,” said Rasiulis.
Federal officials told the defence committee as much last week, which heard that Russian forces were large in number but not “modern.”
“Putin now understands that they are grinding and he can’t grind forever,” said Rasiulis. At some point, he predicted there will be mounting pressure to consider a “maneuver for a diplomatic solution” via a “political settlement” to bring the war to an end.
“All wars end. The question is how much blood is shed and military maneuvering takes place before both parties of the war come to a realization that it’s better to compromise in peace,” he added.
There are inklings that “we are inching toward that” as signs of “diplomatic activity” have taken root in recent days, with talks between the two countries taking place and reports that some civilian vehicles were able to leave via a humanitarian corridor from Mariupol to Zaporizhzhya on Tuesday.
Conservative interim Leader Candice Bergen picked up on that thread from the chamber floor, adding the feds have a “moral duty” to help Ukraine as much as possible. Canada needs “to protect at a minimum” airspace over “humanitarian corridors” that can allow a “safe passage away from the warzone,” she said.
But Green MP Elizabeth May laid out the ramifications for making good on Zelensky’s request, noting it would “risk a wider war or even a nuclear war” at the hands of Putin’s forces — reasons that are “solid” but may “ring hollow” to the Ukrainian president. “We fear we may inevitably let you down,” said a visibly shaken May, urging that there remains a “pathway” to bring Putin to a “negotiating table.”
Striking a personal tone, Trudeau, who introduced the president, noted Canada is home to some 1.4 million Ukrainian Canadians. Turning to Zelensky, the PM said in all the years he’s known him, he’s been a “champion for democracy.”
“Now, democracies around the world are lucky to have you as our champion,” said Trudeau to a standing ovation, adding the feds will impose more “crippling sanctions” on 15 new Russian officials from the government and military “elites who are complicit in this illegal war.”
Zelensky relayed a message to the Ukrainian diaspora in Canada, urging that his nation needs “your practical support” at this “historical moment” — a theme he earlier echoed while encouraging Ukrainians abroad to return to defend their motherland.
Soon after the address closed, signs emerged that the fallout had already begun for Ottawa, with Joly confirming she, Defence Minister Anita Anand and Trudeau are now barred from Russia. Several other MPs were also banned, with some maintaining they would wear it as a “badge of honour.”
Ukrainian Canadian Congress president Alexandra Chyczij, who was also barred, responded in an official statement: “LOL.”
China could play ‘peacemaker’: political scientist
Rasiulis noted the “China factor” has also creeped into the “background” as high-level international talks occur on the file, which fold in another geopolitical element as the Chinese regime continues to look at how to expand its footprint and compete with the U.S.
This week, Chinese Foreign Minister Wang Yi signalled his country is “not a party to the crisis” in a bid to ensure China is not “affected” by sanctions slapped on Russia — comments that came after the Kremlin denied U.S. reports that it asked China for military equipment to help in their efforts.
Jeff Sahadeo, a Carleton University political scientist who studies Russia and eastern Europe, said China has taken a “hands-off approach” by not imposing sanctions on the Russian regime but still not openly expressing support for Putin. “China could play a role of peacemaker or some kind of off-ramp and might have influence” on the leader’s backers as Putin takes stock of who to turn to for an ally amid the shrinking field, said Sahadeo.
“Where does Russia go to replace all of the damage they’re getting? Where do they sell their oil, how do they rebuild their economy from all the western sanctions? If China does not help them, their country is in real trouble now and will be even worse” down the road, he added. “That might be enough pressure to have some kind of internal action against Putin.”
Putin’s “miscalculation” was met with the reality that the war would not be fought with an “initial quick strike” as he wished, as his troops were unable to capture Ukraine within a week or two, which the professor predicted was one of the regime’s “goals.”
Now “exposed” as having a weak force, Sahadeo predicted the writing is on the wall for Putin.
“One way or another, I don’t think he survives this consult. Somehow, sooner or later, this regime will have to end because he staked everything on Ukraine and it’s hard to see him winning in any way.”