Updated: Dec 4, 2022
Boris Kyrychenko, a Blumenfeld Junior Fellow at Science for Peace, is also a recent undergraduate from the University of Toronto, completing his major in International Relations
Jakub Kruczek, licencja: CC BY 3.0, CC BY 3.0 <https://creativecommons.org/licenses/by/3.0>, via Wikimedia Commons
In early November, a frightening escalation occurred in the Russo-Ukrainian War. During Russia’s largest bombardment operation yet, a missile struck the Polish city of Przewodów, 6 km from the Ukrainian border, killing two civilians.
Condemnation of the violence by various heads of state was swift, furious, and justified. However, as is often the case with war reporting, it came before essential facts could be verified. Headlines immediately claimed that the strike was of Russian origin, a claim supposedly supported by anonymous senior intelligence officials. Such a claim does not carry light implications. For if it was indeed true, it would have then been the first official incursion into NATO territory by Russia since the start of the conflict.
NATO, a military alliance of which Poland is a member, was crafted around the controversial concept of ‘defence through deterrence,’ represented via Article 5 of the Treaty, which states that: “an armed attack against one or more… shall be considered an attack against all.” Effectively, an armed incursion into Polish/ NATO territory would then constitute a declaration of war against all other alliance members, including the US and Canada. With both Russia and three of NATO’s members in possession of vast nuclear arsenals, such a conflict would inevitably escalate into a potentially species-ending nuclear exchange.
Fortunately, cool heads prevailed, and Article 5 has not yet been triggered. Furthermore, within as little as 48 hours, previous reporting was called into question. New evidence suggested that, while the missile may have been Russian made, its ownership was unknown, at least to the Polish government. Some US officials claim that it was likely Ukrainian anti-air defences that caused the casualties. This however, did not stop several Western leaders, most notably newly-appointed UK prime minister Rishi Sunak, from continuing to lay the blame for the strike on Russia.
In case the near collision between Russian and NATO nuclear forces over Poland was not enough of a nuclear threat, the Russian-occupied Zaporizhzhia power plant, the largest of its kind in Europe, has once again come under shelling according to the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA). As is the case with the missile strike in Poland, finger-pointing between Ukraine and Russia has ensued. However, should an incident occur at Zaporizhzhia (such as a meltdown or power outage), it would make little difference to the millions affected by the radioactive fallout or ensuing food insecurity as to whether the initial spark was of Russian or Ukrainian origin.
Suffice it to say, the stakes have never been higher since the outbreak of the conflict. Yet despite these close calls with nuclear Armageddon, the Canadian federal government continues to support NATO and its partners in funding the conflict via weapons shipments. It has so far also seemingly been in alignment with the Western stance on complicating attempts at a negotiated settlement, calling for the vanquishing of Putin and the Russian armed forces, as opposed to negotiation- effectively advocating for regime change. Thus, the responsibility of diplomacy falls upon the citizens of NATO and civil society, for they must not allow the powers that be to use this Polish incident, or any future incidents, as tools for further escalation of the conflict.
Canada, and the West at large, ought to decrease anti-Russian and regime change rhetoric, as it reaffirms Putin’s propaganda that the West wants to ‘destroy Russia’ and it complicates peace negotiations. Also, a post-Putin Russia may not necessarily be easier to negotiate with given the growing power of hardliners in Moscow. Furthermore, such a hardline policy also increases the likelihood of Russian nuclear use, as Russia’s doctrine explicitly states that they will use nuclear weapons when the state is threatened. Simply put, it is not in the Canadian interest, nor even in the Ukrainian interest, that we risk nuclear Armageddon by pushing for Russian regime change.
Thus, Canadian civil society ought to call upon our government for cooler heads to prevail- for peace to become the primary objective of Canadian policy on the Russo-Ukrainian War. For in the recent words of retired US admiral Michael Mullen: “we need to back off a little bit and do everything we possibly can to try to get to the table to resolve this thing.”