Matthew Fisher: Canada’s dreamers ignore Russian aggression and offer Putin an olive branch instead

’s approach to the Far North has been emphatically demonstrated by the planting of a tricolor on the seabed at the North Pole, the construction of a network of new and refurbished military bases across Siberia, the forward basing of an army division in eastern Siberia by 2018 and the deployment of a new fleet of nuclear-powered ice breakers and quieter submarines in the Arctic.

The Trudeau ’s “rational” approach to the Top of the is to initiate talks with the Russians next month about areas of mutual interest such as global warming and search and rescue.

At the Brisbane G20 summit two years ago, then prime minister Stephen Harper received kudos from Canada’s allies when he famously told Putin, “I guess I’ll shake your hand but I have only one thing to say to you: you need to get out of Ukraine.”

Canada now favours a much less confrontational approach, according to a speech given recently in Foreign Minister Stéphane Dion’s name by his parliamentary secretary, Pamela Goldsmith-Jones.

NTV/AFP/Getty Images
NTV/AFP/Getty ImagesA Russian NTV channel grab taken Aug. 3, 2007, shows a manipulator of the Mir-1 mini-submarine placing a Russian flag on the seabed four kilometres beneath the North Pole.

The dreamers now ruling Canada believe a gentler stance can lead to a more trusting relationship with Putin on northern issues.

Dion’s radiant idea is to separate the two ’ northern policies from uncomfortable talk with the over other vexing issues such as its seizure of Crimea, setting eastern Ukraine aflame and constantly menacing Poland and the Baltic states. This is a fantastically generous gift to Russia. In fact, it is precisely what the has been loudly demanding for years in an unconcealed effort to divide the West.

Dion’s olive has come at the precise moment when there is an explosive rupture between Washington and the West and Moscow over a slew of nettlesome issues. It has been stoked by Putin’s nearly $1-trillion spree to upgrade the Russian military by 2020, his bullying behaviour along the fault line that runs from the Baltic Sea to the Black Sea and a Rand Corporation report that concluded that Russia could occupy , Lithuania and Estonia in 60 hours.

And that short of the nuclear option, there was nothing the West could do about it.

Tang Chhin Sothy/AFP/Getty Images
Tang Chhin Sothy/AFP/Getty Images Canadian Foreign Minister Stéphane Dion.

There are many other poisonous new elements to Russia’s faltering relations with the West. They include the recent bombing of a UN humanitarian convoy in Syria, the sustained aerial bombardment of the ruins of Aleppo, persistent cyberwarfare against European allies and, according to the U.S., the recent cyberhacking of Democratic Party computers to interfere with the U.S. presidential campaign.

Moreover, Putin declared last week that Russia was unilaterally suspending an agreement with the U.S. on the disposal of surplus weapons-grade plutonium because of “unfriendly actions” that were “a threat to strategic stability.”

To get back into Moscow’s good graces, Putin demanded that Washington remove all troops and infrastructure from NATO countries bordering Russia, lift all sanctions including, presumably, those imposed by of his Ukrainian gambit and compensate his country for the economic damage those sanctions have caused.

Putin has not been the only statesman engaging in hyperbolic diplomatic license. It was “eminently sensible” for Canada to talk with Moscow now because “between us, we control three-quarters of the north,” Dion’s speech said.

The foreign minister’s grandiose claim will be news to Norway, Denmark (Greenland) and especially the U.S, which is largely responsible for defending the northern air and maritime approaches to Canada because Ottawa has never devoted sufficient resources to doing so itself.

Despite Dion’s olive branch, the Canadians are hardly Boy Scouts. As it did during the Cold War, the RCAF still operates a secret listening post at the top of Ellesmere Island whose main function is to eavesdrop on Russia. Only three months ago, the Trudeau government agreed that Canada would lead one of four NATO combat battalions to be placed in the .

Those tripwires, which Moscow bitterly opposes, are purpose-built to dissuade Putin from invading the Baltics unless he is prepared to kill Canadian, American, British and German soldiers.

Still, that is small beer compared with what Russia has been up to.

Canada’s opening to Moscow fits awkwardly with Russia’s announcement last Friday that it intends to base SS-26 Iskander missiles capable of carrying nuclear warheads in the Baltic enclave of Kaliningrad. This has caused consternation in neighbouring countries and will have certainly been noted by Canadian commanders because it means the troops that the Trudeau government is sending to Latvia could now be hit with only a few minutes’ warning by missiles fired from either the west or the east.

Meanwhile, Sweden — which many Canadians regard as a similarly benevolent force for good in the world — has been so spooked by Russia’s behaviour that it is seriously considering joining NATO. The historically neutral Scandinavian nation is also bringing back conscription and, for the first time, will consider including women in the draft.

 Doctors Without Borders via AP
Doctors Without Borders via APA frame grab from video provided by Doctors Without Borders shows a house on fire in Aleppo, Syria, after an airstrike Oct. 5, 2016.

Norway’s top soldier, Admiral Haakon Bruun-Hanssen, told the Wall Street Journal that his troops had witnessed a rapid improvement in Russian’s Arctic capabilities. To counter these emerging hazards, Oslo is likely to increase defence spending by eight per cent this year, and may spend more than twice as much per capita as Canada on defence by 2020.

To defend polar regions from Russia, Norway, Denmark and the U.S. are purchasing cutting edge F-35 fighter jets.

Resisting the fact that Canada’s closest friends strongly believe that the F-35 is the way to defend Arctic air space, the Trudeau government continues to favour buying Super Hornets with much older, second-tier capabilities.

By separating talks with Russia about relatively benign issues in the Arctic from Putin’s malevolent military posture there and elsewhere, Dion gives Putin a reward he does not deserve and puts Canada seriously out of step with close allies who are extremely distrustful of the Russian dictator’s intentions everywhere.

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