Canadian kids ask: Is Canada safe from the Russia-Ukraine war?

Story by CBC Kids News • Published 2022-02-28 16:21

Cyberattacks on Canada more likely than military attacks, experts say


Russian President Vladimir Putin put his nuclear forces on “high alert” over the weekend.

The announcement came a few days after Russia declared war on Ukraine and troops invaded the country, causing Ukrainians to flee, seek shelter or try to fight back.

On Monday, Russian and Ukrainian officials met near the Ukraine-Belarus border for the first round of peace talks.

Although it's unclear what these latest developments mean, some are wondering if Putin will begin waging war outside of Ukraine.

That includes many Canadian kids who, after we published an article on the conflict last week, asked: Is Canada safe?

CBC Kids News reached out to two experts on the conflict to bring you the answer. They are:

Is Canada safe?

Saideman said that Canada is likely safe from war and that the conflict will probably “stay entirely in Ukraine.”

However, he said that Russia could threaten Canada through cyberattacks.

Cyberattacks occur when hackers use computers and the internet to cause harm, such as stealing data and information, or by spreading misinformation to cause conflicts abroad.

Experts say Russian President Vladimir Putin isn’t likely to attack Canada with military force and is instead more likely to use cyberattacks. (Image credit: Reuters)

Von Hlatky agreed that the threat to Canada “seems very low.”

“It would be very difficult for Russia to circle Canada with troops. Ukraine is a neighbouring country. The type of threats that Russia can make toward Canada are much different than Ukraine.” 

Like Saideman, she said that Russia would be more likely to threaten Canada with a cyberattack than a military attack.

But what about nuclear threats?

Last week, Putin warned other countries that interfering in Russia’s conflict with Ukraine would result in “such consequences that you have never encountered in your history.”

On Feb. 27, he then put Russia’s nuclear forces on “high alert.”

Many took these statements to mean he was threatening to launch a nuclear attack.

A nuclear attack is one that involves nuclear weapons, which are explosives that use a special type of chemistry called nuclear reactions, which have massive destructive power.

They are the most powerful weapons on Earth and have only been used twice before, when the U.S. bombed Hiroshima and Nagasaki, Japan, in 1945, marking the end of the Second World War.

The Japanese cities of Hiroshima and Nagasaki, pictured here, were destroyed when they were hit by nuclear bombs, just three days apart, in 1945. Many lives were lost. (Image credit: Hiromichi Matsuda/Nagasaki Atomic Bomb Museum/Getty Images)

Because of how catastrophic nuclear war can be, many countries have continued to avoid it since 1945 and will do everything to continue to avoid it.

Saideman says this is why Canada and the other countries in an alliance called the North Atlantic Treaty Organization (NATO) aren’t sending troops to Ukraine.

“We're safe from a nuclear attack, in this case because the U.S. and its allies are not going to intervene in Ukraine. Russia is not going to have a reason to escalate at a higher level.”

Another reason Russia won’t attack first, he said, is because the U.S. has nuclear weapons as well, and it has agreed to defend Canada.

On Monday, a U.S. White House official told Reuters, a global news agency, that “a nuclear war cannot be won, and must never be fought,” and the U.S. said it saw no reason to put its nuclear forces on high alert.

Are surrounding countries at risk?

You may be wondering: What if Putin continues to invade other countries after Ukraine? Wouldn’t NATO and its allies have to intervene at some point, escalating things further?

Saideman said we “can’t read Putin’s mind,” but it is likely that Putin will stop at Ukraine, as his goal appears to be something called irredentism.

Saideman, who wrote a book on irredentism called For Kin or Country, defines it as a political effort to unify a supposedly lost territory with the homeland.

In this case, Putin wants to take over parts of Ukraine that he sees as Russia’s land.

In a television address last week, Putin said that Ukraine is a key part of Russia’s history and that parts of Ukraine are ancient Russian lands.

Ukraine’s government disputes this and says the land should remain as part of their independent nation.

Saideman said that there are many examples of these conflicts over the last hundred years and that they’re “awful wars, but they also typically stay where they're at.”

As of Feb. 24, the Russian military has been bombing parts of Ukraine, including this residential building in the country’s capital, Kyiv. (Image credit: Umit Bektas)

Putin is unpredictable 

Although there are reasons to be assured, von Hlatky said it’s important to remember that Putin is really difficult to predict.

“He changes his mind a lot.”

Still, some are hopeful that a peaceful resolution to this war is possible.

A second round of peace talks could take place “in the near future,” Mykhailo Podolyak, a top adviser to Ukraine's president, said on Monday.

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