Choosing peace over blood and ashes in Ukraine
At the close of last week’s blog post, we promised to revisit the diplomatic prospects for Ukraine, as well as to examine recent Canadian government actions on sanctions and a unanimous parliamentary declaration on genocide in Ukraine.
No resumption of peace talks in wake of Guterres meetings with Putin and Zelensky
On the UN role in the peace process, perhaps the brutally short statement issued by the UN Secretary-General Antonio Guterres, in the wake of his visits to Moscow and Kiev respectively, says it all:
I am pleased that more than 100 civilians have successfully been evacuated from the Azovstal steel plant in Mariupol, in an operation successfully coordinated by the United Nations and the International Committee of the Red Cross (ICRC).
I hope the continued coordination with Kyiv and Moscow will lead to more humanitarian pauses that will allow civilians safe passage away from the fighting and aid to reach people where the needs are greatest.
The evacuation of these civilians, after so many failed previous attempts, is certainly a welcome step. But the main focus of the Guterres meetings with the Russian and Ukrainian Presidents was to have been breathing new life into a clearly moribund peace process.
As we foreshadowed in our April 23rd blog post, this was never going to be easy, given the lack of Western backing and therefore the lack of any meaningful leverage that Guterres could wield, with either side.
In the view of the Rideau Institute:
The lack of western support for the UN’s diplomatic peacemaking efforts – virtually unmentioned by the media – is, in a word, shocking. Need we remind who is not fighting and dying in this conflict?
But a negotiated settlement is not just important to stem the tide of death and destruction in Ukraine. As we shall examine in the context of so-called “red lines”, a credible conflict off ramp for both Ukraine and Russia is the only meaningful way to definitively avoid escalation to nuclear war.
Canadian genocide declaration and new sanctions measures fail the test of due process
Based on what we have seen so far, we have seen atrocities, we have seen war crimes. We have not yet seen a level of systematic deprivation of life of the Ukrainian people to rise to the level of genocide. But, again, that’s something we will continue to monitor.
There is not a mechanical formula for this. There is a process that we have run just recently at the State Department to ultimately determine that the killing — the mass killing of Rohingya in Burma constituted genocide. That was a lengthy process based on an amassing of evidence over… a considerable period of time and involving, frankly, mass death, the mass incarceration of a significant portion of the Rohingya population.
State Department Spokesperson Ned Price emphasized that the Myanmar genocide determination was made:
after rigorous factual and legal analysis.
The UN High Commissioner for Human Rights in her April 22nd statement on alleged war crimes in Ukraine made no mention at all of evidence in support of genocide.
Yet Canadian parliamentarians were undeterred.
In the view of the Rideau Institute:
Is it really necessary to point out that those seeking to hold Russia to legal account must themselves strictly adhere to the most basic principles of the rule of law?
The alternative is the lynch mob.
And there is yet more at risk in this politically-motivated rush to judgment. Fintan O’Toole, in an article referencing Biden’s casual use of the term “genocide,” writes:
By inflating that charge into genocide, it substituted rhetoric for rigor … Paradoxically, it also risked the minimization of the actual atrocities: If they do not rise to the level of the ultimate evil, are they “merely” war crimes?
Proposed sale of Russian assets seized under Canadian sanctions law also flouts due process
In its budget implementation bill tabled Tuesday morning in the House of Commons, the Government of Canada, included new provisions to its Special Economic Measures Act (SEMA) and Magnitsky Law.
Christopher Nardi, writing in Saltwire.com, summarizes::
If passed in its current form, the bill would allow the government to go much further than simply freezing assets and barring transactions in and out of targeted accounts (as they can currently do), but also sell them off.
The only legal proceeding required will be to satisfy a Superior Court judge whether the property is owned, held or controlled “directly or indirectly” by a foreign state, anyone in a foreign state or a foreign national who may occasionally “but does not ordinarily” reside in Canada.”
Any person with rights to the property must be given notice and heard, but only in respect of the ownership issue.
RI President Peggy Mason comments:
Surely the key question here – which applies not only to the selling off of the seized assets, but to the seizure itself – is what is the justification for the seizure and/or sale?
Are all Russian citizens with assets abroad simply deemed to be complicit with the actions of the Putin regime, regardless of evidence?
Section 7 of the Canadian Charter of Rights and Freedoms states:
- Everyone has the right to life, liberty and security of the person and the right not to be deprived thereof except in accordance with the principles of fundamental justice.
For a discussion of the issue of procedural due process – or the lack of it – in relation to autonomous economic sanctions in general, see the Rideau Institute Report Economic Sanctions Under International Law: a Guide for Canadian Policy (Nov 2021)at pages 15-16 and 33-34 respectively.
Report author and law professor Craig Martin writes:
… there has been a growing recognition that sanctions regimes targeting specific individuals and entities must similarly provide safeguards, including fully disclosed criteria for designating persons as being subject to the sanctions, clear procedures for seeking removal from such lists, as well as provision for exemptions.
For an article on the legal morass the U.S. President faces in trying to engage in a similar practice of selling seized assets, see: No, Biden can’t just sell off seized Russian yachts and central bank assets to aid Ukraine – international law and the US Constitution forbid it (the conversation.com, 3 May 2022).
Author Paul B. Stephan reaches this conclusion:
I predict that disregarding these issues [of international law] will likely produce embarrassing judicial setbacks that will make it harder to help Ukraine down the road.
In the view of the Rideau Institute:
International law is devalued and undermined when flouted by governments and parliamentarians allegedly acting in its name.
We call upon the Government of Canada to step back from its outrageous – and likely illegal – proposals to sell assets owned by Russian entities and instead to demonstrate rigorous Canadian adherence to human rights principles of fundamental fairness by amending the current sanctions regime against Russia in accordance with these legal standards.
For an excellent article on more Canadian flouting of international humanitarian and human rights law, this time in relation to Israeli actions in the Occupied Palestinian Territories, see: Claims that Israel is imposing ‘apartheid’ on Palestinians put new pressure on Trudeau Liberals (Evan Dyer, cbc.ca) 04 May 2022.
“Red lines” will not reduce nuclear risks in Ukraine war
In an alarming CBC article, former Ukrainian President Petro Poroshenko argues that Canada should “get behind” a reckless proposal from a Republican congressman urging the West to warn Russia that doing the unthinkable- using a tactical nuclear weapon in Ukraine – would be crossing a NATO “red line” and would lead to a direct NATO military response.
To see the danger in this proposal, we have to ask:
Why is NATO not engaging militarily now?
Given the extraordinary difficulty that Russia is having in its war against Ukraine alone, it should be obvious that NATO (well even just the USA) has the conventional military capacity to defeat Russia in Ukraine.
So we ask again:
Why is NATO not already intervening directly in the conflict?
The answer is one to which we have referred in our posts many times before:
In a war between Russia and NATO, the risk of escalation from a conventional conflict to a nuclear war is just too great.
This escalation risk would be exponentially increased, if NATO enters the conflict after Russia has detonated a tactical nuclear weapon in Ukraine.
As horrific as the detonation of a tactical nuclear weapon would be, it pales in comparison to a nuclear war between NATO and Russia, that would put not just the future of Ukraine, but of the entire planet, potentially at risk.
This means such a red line is, at best, not credible and will not be followed or, at worst, will be acted upon, thereby risking all out nuclear war.
What is the alternative?
There is an alternative in two parts. NATO must make it clear, on the one hand, that Russian detonation of a tactical nuclear weapon in Ukraine is so beyond the pale it would unleash an entirely new level of sanctions, that would isolate and impoverish Russia as North Korea is isolated and impoverished.
But let us be clear, this is also a scenario that no one should welcome, since however isolated and sanctioned Russia becomes, it will still be a nuclear weapons superpower.
We need a conflict off ramp for both Russia and Ukraine.
So this dire consequence must be coupled with a genuine off ramp for Russia involving Western support for the kind of peace agreement already initiated by Ukrainian President Zelensky, but which floundered when the West showed no interest in it or the specific security guarantees that Ukraine was seeking from them.
Reducing the risk of nuclear war means taking steps to end this deadly conflict.
A peace agreement by definition requires compromises on all sides. That, in turn, requires the West to face up to the fact that its apparent goal of crushing Russia or at least “vanquishing” Putin himself (to quote our own misguided Deputy PM) is quite simply, untenable, if we are to reduce, not increase, the risk of nuclear war, not to mention if we are finally to start taking steps to end this increasingly deadly conflict.
More broadly, the agreement would need to be supported by benchmarks allowing for a gradual lifting of sanctions.
We remind again that President Zelensky, himself, quite early on in the war, recognized the merits of a negotiated solution, over continued death and destruction in his country.
In summation then, NATO is not doing any of the fighting and dying. So how is NATO justified in setting out maximalist demands, far exceeding what President Zelensky has claimed as necessary for a peace agreement?
On the issue of misguided maximalist demands, see the Globe and Mail editorial entitled: What’s the war about? Defending Ukraine – not defeating Russia. There’s a difference. (3 May 2022).
The commentary states:
In the days before Vladimir Putin’s unprovoked invasion of his neighbour, it was assumed that the main challenge for NATO and the West would be limiting the scale of Russia’s victory in Ukraine….
But barely more than two months later, the main challenge for the West is less and less about limiting the extent of Mr. Putin’s victory, and ever more about managing the scale of his defeat – and the danger that he will try to stave off defeat by escalating.
Referencing language from President Biden that Putin “cannot remain in power” and a statement last week by U.S. Secretary of Defence that his goal was “to see Russia weakened to the degree it cannot do the kind of things that it has done in invading Ukraine”, the editorial continues:
Such words expand Western war aims from defending Ukraine to defeating Russia, and even overthrowing Mr. Putin. In a different time and place, those might be legitimate and even achievable goals. But not here and not now. The Russian nuclear arsenal makes such objectives imprudent to aim for, and counterproductive to give voice to.
In the view of the Rideau Institute:
We welcome recognition in the editorial of the paramount need to avoid escalation but we lament its failure to consider the vital role of a negotiated settlement to that end.
We need to “choose peace in Ukraine”
For an excellent examination of the need to “choose peace in Ukraine, not ashes and blood”, see: The Deadly Illusion of “Victory” (Michael T. Klare, the nation.com) 5 May 2022.
After canvassing the impact of heavy weapons provision to Ukraine as likely leading to the fighting “grinding on for months” with neither side in a position to achieve victory, Klare states:
What is called for, then, is not illusionary promises of “victory” but rather a serious international effort to stop the fighting now, before more people perish, or the war escalates into something a whole lot worse.
Like many other experts we have cited in previous blog posts on the potential elements of a peace settlement, Klare sees ample room for the following:
…an outcome that provides security assurances to all sides: a neutral Ukraine, a demilitarized Donbas, and some form of international backing for these arrangements.
If we truly cared about the fate of Ukraine and its people, preventing further loss of life should be our highest priority.
We call on the Government of Canada to muster the political courage and will to engage with NATO on urgent steps to back a credible peace process in Ukraine.
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Photo credit: Wikimedia Commons (Atomic Dome, Hiroshima)