Support is firm now, but Ukraine and West have different end goals: Ignatieff

Former Liberal leader Michael Ignatieff says that despite Western support for Ukraine, the two sides still have different "ultimate objectives" when it comes to ending the war.

Western leaders required to consider post-war geopolitical situation, former Liberal leader says

A man with grey hair and wearing glasses speaks at a microphone.
Michael Ignatieff, shown here at a news conference for the Central European University in Budapest, Hungary, in 2018, said Sunday that he understood and sympathized with Ukraine's desire to rid its territory of Russian occupation, but that Western leaders also have other factors to consider. (Bernadett Szabo/Reuters)

Now linked by extensive military and economic ties, the West and Ukraine still have different "ultimate objectives" concerning the end of the war, says former Liberal leader Michael Ignatieff.

In an interview that aired Sunday on Rosemary Barton Live, Ignatieff said Ukraine's hatred for Russia was "deep and justified" and it was fighting for its survival. He said he hoped Ukraine could retake its territory and that Russia would soon realize it could not conquer the country.

"The uncomfortable thing we have to look at is that Ukraine wants to win. And the West wants Ukraine to survive — and those are not the same objectives," Ignatieff told CBC chief political correspondent Rosemary Barton.

Ignatieff, who led the Liberal Party of Canada from 2008-2011 and is now a professor at the Central European University, said leaders like U.S. President Joe Biden and German Chancellor Olaf Scholz must respond to domestic political pressures as well as consider the future of geopolitics.

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How will the war between Ukraine and Russia end?

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Rosemary Barton Live speaks with Michael Ignatieff, professor at Central European University and former Liberal Party Leader, about the war in Ukraine. Ignatieff says the end of the war with Russia and Ukraine will be 'decided on the battlefield.'

"Biden and Scholz live in a world where, when this is over, they have to live with the Russians. And at that point, a divergence emerges between what Biden and Scholz want and what [Ukrainian President Volodymyr] Zelenskyy wants," he said.

"It's just inevitable. It's not a matter of betraying Zelenskyy. It's just that the external powers and the Ukraine have different ultimate objectives here."

Ignatieff said he understood and sympathized with Ukraine's desire to rid its whole territory of Russian occupation, but he noted that Western leaders also have other factors to consider.

"[Biden and and Scholz] may even want a Russia that has Putin at the end of the day in power, rather than a more right-wing and terrifying opponent in the chair in Moscow. Or even worse, a Russia that is split up into civil war following Russian defeat."

Now over one year since Russia's full scale invasion, the war in Ukraine is locked for the moment in a bloody stalemate, with heavy fighting in the country's east, particularly around the city of Bakhmut.

Two men wearing suits sit in chairs and speak.
President Joe Biden and German Chancellor Olaf Scholz speak during a meeting in the Oval Office of the White House in Washington, Friday, March 3, 2023. (Susan Walsh/AP)

Biden and Scholz met on Friday and reiterated their strong support for Ukraine and commitment to further aid in order to bolster the embattled country.

"At this time I think it's very important that we give the message that we will continue to do so as long as it takes," Scholz said.

Domestic pressures a factor

The Canadian government has taken a similar line, committing to support Ukraine for as long as is needed. In an address marking one year since the start of the full-scale war, Prime Minister Justin Trudeau said Canada would support the country "as long it takes, as much as it takes."

Canada's top soldier, Gen. Wayne Eyre, recently travelled to Ukraine, and Canada announced in February it would send the country an additional four tanks, along with artillery ammunition.

Ignatieff said he was "disappointed" Canada had not been able to give more in the way of military support, and added that Canadians should be prepared for years of aid to Ukraine.

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Rosemary Barton Live speaks with Daniel Roher, the Canadian director behind the Oscar-nominated documentary Navalny. The documentary follows jailed Russian opposition leader Alexei Navalny, who returned to Russia after an alleged poisoning assassination attempt.

"I think Canadians are going to have to swallow hard and understand that even at times [when] it's not particularly easy for Canada, that we are going to have to sustain a constant, decade-long commitment to rebuild Ukraine once the shooting stops," he said.

Anti-war sentiment is gaining some attention in key allies, like the United States, where Republicans are divided over the issue. While a Republican delegation recently visited Ukraine to show support, other's, like Florida representative Matt Gaetz, have called for the end to aid.

Ignatieff said Biden and Scholz are undoubtedly aware of the issue of domestic politics.

"These are politicians. They have to read public opinion. And I think there are signs that both in the United States and in Germany, people are asking 'how long does this go on?'" Ignatieff said.

Ignatieff also argued that despite pointing out the eventual divergence in interests "it's not right [for] outsiders like me to pontificate about what Ukraine should or shouldn't do."

"I don't think anyone truthfully knows how it's going to end, it's going to be decided on the battlefield."


Christian Paas-Lang covers federal politics for CBC News in Ottawa as an associate producer with The House and a digital writer with CBC Politics. You can reach him at christian.paas-lang@cbc.ca.