Former Ukrainian president says war can still be avoided but urges accelerated Canadian aid
Petro Poroshenko reiterates calls for military goods to fend off Russia
Former Ukrainian president Petro Poroshenko says Canada should accelerate any plans to send military aid to his country, expressing hope that further escalation can be avoided even as Russian troops remain amassed at the border.
"We have a full, open and huge Russian aggression," Poroshenko said in an interview airing Sunday on Rosemary Barton Live.
"The expanding of the scale of this war, we can avoid that. We can use [diplomacy]," he told CBC chief political correspondent Rosemary Barton.
Tensions in Ukraine have been running high for months, with an estimated 100,000 Russian troops near the shared border. Russia recently presented a list of demands to the United States and allied powers that include a permanent ban on Ukrainian membership in the NATO military alliance.
Poroshenko suggested that the way to dissuade any aggression by Russian President Vladimir Putin is to do the opposite: present a plan for Ukrainian and Georgian membership in NATO this summer.
Russia denies that it is threatening Ukraine with invasion, saying it is looking to negotiate with the U.S. and the North Atlantic Treaty Organization around a stable international security framework. Putin has said Russia feels threatened by NATO expansion in eastern Europe.
"I can officially assure you that Russia is not going to invade Ukraine. Russia doesn't want to invade Ukraine," Russia's ambassador to Canada, Oleg Stepanov, told CBC's Power & Politics on Friday.
- Canada offers $120 M loan, considers sending small arms to Ukraine to counter threat of Russian invasion
Top diplomats from the U.S. and Russia met in Geneva on Friday, and while they did not reach an agreement to defuse the crisis, they did indicate that talks would continue.
Meanwhile, Ukraine is taking steps to fortify itself against possible attack, including by expanding a branch of its military called the Territorial Defence Forces, essentially its army reserve.
"I think people are getting ready for different scenarios, and we're ready to fight for every house and every street if necessary," Andriy Shevchenko, Ukraine's former ambassador to Canada, said in an interview on Rosemary Barton Live on Sunday.
Shevchenko lauded the vocal support from NATO allies but called the fact that negotiations were ongoing between Russia and the U.S. "disturbing," arguing it was an instance of blackmail rather than genuine diplomacy.
"We would like to see a genuine diplomatic process, in good faith, on how we can make Russia leave its neighbours alone and how we can make Russia start respecting international laws," he said.
Poroshenko told Barton that there were two keys to negotiating with Russia: Don't trust Putin, and don't be afraid of Putin.
Internal unity needed to face Russia: Poroshenko
A billionaire businessman, Poroshenko became president of Ukraine in 2014 after the country's pro-Russia government led by Viktor Yanukovych was removed from office following popular protests.
During his presidency, Ukraine fought an ongoing, protracted conflict with pro-Russian separatist forces in the Donbas region of the country's east.
Poroshenko lost the 2019 election to Volodymyr Zelensky, Ukraine's current president. The former president now faces charges of high treason — accused of involvement in coal sales that allegedly helped finance those separatist forces.
He denies the charges and calls them politically motivated. Poroshenko still leads his party, European Solidarity, as a representative in the Ukrainian parliament.
Despite the ongoing political conflict between Poroshenko and Zelensky, the former told Barton that internal unity was needed in the face of a Russian threat.
"This is the only thing which should unite the nation, including me and Zelensky," he said.
'Accelerate' Canadian aid
Ukraine has pushed the international community, including Canada, for additional aid — especially military aid — for months. Canada, which has long been one of the country's top international aid donors, also has some 200 troops in Ukraine providing training.
On Friday, the federal government announced a $120-million loan as a first instalment of assistance. Two sources told CBC News that Ottawa is also considering shipments of small arms and other military aid.
Poroshenko said on Sunday that Ukraine is counting on Canada, and he hoped aid would come "as soon as possible" and that Ottawa would "accelerate this process."
Speaking in a separate interview on Sunday, International Development Minister Harjit Sajjan said the loan was in response to a specific request by Ukraine. This issue was the "top priority" for the federal government, he said, and additional aid was being considered.
Poroshenko emphasized that he was thankful to Canada for its contributions and help to Ukraine so far, and in the eight years since the 2014 revolution. He also reiterated that Ukraine sees weapons shipments as purely defensive.
"The only purpose is to defend Ukraine. If Russia crosses our border, crosses our touch line and makes the very crazy decision to attack and kill Ukrainians, we should increase the price for that," he said.
Shevchenko, the former ambassador to Canada, also outlined a three-pronged request for aid from Canada: additional weapons and munitions, the continuation of the training mission Operation Unifier and additional sanctions against Russia.
You can watch full episodes of Rosemary Barton Live on CBC Gem, the CBC's streaming service.
With files from Tyler Buist and Rosemary Barton