Politics·Exclusive

Canada urged to put more weight behind Ukraine NATO bid as Russian buildup continues

The former president of Ukraine is urging Canada to get more actively behind his country’s NATO membership bid. Petro Poroshenko sat down with CBC News senior defence correspondent Murray Brewster and said buildup of Russian troops on the Ukraine border lends fresh urgency to the membership bid.

Former president says commitment from West would send strong signal to Russia

A Ukrainian soldier uses a periscope to watch fighting positions on the line of separation from pro-Russian rebels near Donetsk, Ukraine, in April. Ukraine and the West have become increasingly worried about the presence of more Russian troops and have urged Moscow to pull them back. (The Associated Press)

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:

Former Ukrainian president Petro Poroshenko discusses NATO bid

10 days ago
2:25
Petro Poroshenko, the former president of Ukraine, talks about the threat of Russia and his country's efforts to gain entrance into the North Atlantic Treaty Organization alliance. 2:25

"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.

Limited time

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.

Defence Minister Anita Anand addresses the opening session of the Halifax International Security Forum in Halifax on Friday. She says she's concerned for the people of Ukraine. (Andrew Vaughan/The Canadian Press)

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."

Russian President Vladimir Putin, shown on Oct. 20. Pressure from both the U.S. and European countries has failed to convince his government to withdraw troops from the volatile border region with Ukraine. (Alexey Druzhinin/SPUTNIK/AFP/Getty Images)

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."

ABOUT THE AUTHOR

Murray Brewster

Defence and security

Murray Brewster is senior defence writer for CBC News, based in Ottawa. He has covered the Canadian military and foreign policy from Parliament Hill for over a decade. Among other assignments, he spent a total of 15 months on the ground covering the Afghan war for The Canadian Press. Prior to that, he covered defence issues and politics for CP in Nova Scotia for 11 years and was bureau chief for Standard Broadcast News in Ottawa.

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