Canada urged to put more weight behind Ukraine NATO bid as Russian buildup continues
Former president says commitment from West would send strong signal to Russia
As senior U.S. officials become increasingly concerned that Russia is not bluffing, the former president of Ukraine is urging Canada to become more actively involved in his country's bid for NATO membership.
Petro Poroshenko, in an interview with CBC News, said the ongoing buildup of Russian forces on the border with Ukraine lends a fresh urgency to the 13-year-old effort to become part of the Western military and security alliance.
He's urging member countries to offer a pathway to full NATO membership at the next leaders' summit in Madrid, and he believes Canada, as an original sponsor of Ukraine's ambitions, has an important role to play.
Such a commitment, which requires the country to meet certain benchmarks but stops short of delivering full NATO membership, would be a strong signal to Russia, Poroshenko said on the sidelines of the Halifax International Security Forum.
Canada's new defence minister, Anita Anand, who said late Friday she is concerned for the Ukrainian people, was asked if Canada was prepared to go to bat for Ukraine in the 30-country alliance.
WATCH | Former Ukrainian president on his country's efforts to join NATO:
"The question you raise in particular is one that I'm currently discussing with our government and our partners," she said.
Other countries, such as France, have made unambiguous promises to defend Ukraine's territorial integrity. Canada, which has long been helping to train Ukrainian forces, has already demonstrated such a commitment, Anand suggested.
The current Ukrainian government, led by President Volodymyr Zelensky, pushed unsuccessfully before the last NATO summit in June for a membership plan. U.S President Joe Biden said the country still had a long way to go in cleaning up corruption.
Allies are becoming increasingly concerned about the posture of Russian forces.
The New York Times reported Friday that American intelligence officials have warned there is only a limited amount of time to prevent Moscow from taking military action in Ukraine. Washington is apparently working to develop a series of measures, both economic and military, to deter Russia.
Poroshenko said he's pleased to see that Republicans in the U.S. Congress considered renewed sanctions against the planned Russia-to-Germany natural gas pipeline, Nord Stream. In any potential Western deterrence package, he said, his country's energy security needs must be taken into consideration.
Even still, the former president, who is widely expected to run again, acknowledged that Ukraine — which has struggled to rid itself of corruption and a sluggish Soviet-era bureaucracy — is not ready for full-blown Western military membership.
The country has, however, come light years from where it started, and the strict reform agenda implemented under his government needs to be carried through, Poroshenko said.
A carrot for further reforms
With more than 100,000 Russian troops lingering on the border and an intensifying proxy war in two of his country's eastern districts, Poroshenko said one of the military measures under consideration should be a path to NATO membership.
"Why Ukraine cannot get the membership action plan with this situation? This is just a carrot for reforms," he said, adding that his country's neighbours surely understand the stakes.
"Europe needs a democratic Ukraine. Europe needs a European Ukraine. Europe needs a secure Ukraine. Europe needs an independent Ukraine from Russia."
For weeks, pressure from both the United States and European countries has failed to convince the government of Russian President Vladimir Putin to withdraw its troops from the volatile border region.
Ukrainian membership in NATO is one of Russia's so-called red lines.
Putin has accused the West of consistently trying to provoke Moscow, which recently closed its liaison office at alliance headquarters in Brussels.
Poroshenko bristled at the suggestion that Putin would not allow Ukrainian membership in NATO to go unchallenged.
"We are a free and democratic country, the biggest by territory in Europe," he said.
"Do you think we need to ask the permission of Putin to enter NATO? Do you think this is the democratic way? I say no."