Discover more from The Line
Andrew Potter: Canada's shame is Ukraine's disaster
Zelenskyy must be wondering if his visit was worth the cost.
By: Andrew Potter
Up until the fiasco of Parliament giving a standing ovation to a 98-year-old Ukrainian-Canadian named Yaroslav Hunka, who, it turned out, had fought with the Waffen SS against the Soviets in the Second World War, Ukrainian president Volodymyr Zelenskyy’s North American tour had gone reasonably well.
On Tuesday, Zelenskyy gave a dramatic and well-recieved address to the United Nations General Assembly, where he denounced Russia as an aggressor state hell bent on committing genocide in Ukraine. Despite grumbling from the members of the Global South, who think Ukraine is getting far too much attention at the expense of their own problems, Zelenskyy was backed at the UNGA by U.S. president Joe Biden, who portrayed Russia as a threat to global peace, and pledged his ongoing commitment to Ukraine.
Two days later, Zelenskyy went to Washington to drum up congressional support for his country’s fight. He faced a more skeptical and divided Washington than he did during his previous visit, and his request to speak to a joint session of congress was turned down. Still, he came away with a further U.S.$128 million in military aid and strong hints that the long-desired ATACMS missiles would soon be on their way.
Then on Friday, it was up to Canada for the supposedly easy stuff: a speech to Parliament that had all sides cheering, and earned him a promise of another $650 million in military aid. This was followed by a quick trip to Toronto with his wife Olena Zelensk for an emotional rally at the Fort York Armoury with members of the Ukrainian community.
All told, a decently successful tour for a man who has managed to maintain his stature as a statesman and wartime leader, even as his most stalwart allies grow visibly weary of the conflict. While everyone continues to say the right things about supporting Ukraine “for as long as it takes,” it is hard to ignore how much has changed in the year and a half since Russia launched the so-called “full-scale invasion” of Ukraine.
In the early, heady, days and weeks of the invasion, global leaders jostled for position in the lineup to visit Kyiv — to show their diplomatic support, bring some goodies in the form of arms or other forms of aid, but also to bask in the halo surrounding Zelenskyy and the Kyiv regime that was sticking it to the Russians. But those visits have largely dried up, and the ones that do happen don’t draw the attention they once did (how many remember Justin Trudeau’s visit to Kyiv in June?). So now it is Zelenskyy who has to fly around the world, playing the supplicant before an increasingly skeptical crowd.
It was a difficult summer for Ukraine, beginning with a long-awaited counteroffensive that got off to a lousy start and has still not generated the decisive breakthrough many expected. This resulted in plenty of sniping over whose fault it is: The Americans, who continue to slow-roll weapons due to ongoing fears of “escalation”; the poor quality of training given to Ukrainians by Afghanistan-obsessed NATO; the Ukrainians, for being too reluctant to take the heavy casualties needed to make any headway…
There’s no question that everyone is getting tired of this war. The blanket solidarity and unity that held over the last year is starting to unravel. Inevitably, politics has started to intervene. In early August, Zelenskyy fired every single one of his regional recruitment heads over corruption allegations. A month later, he replaced his minister of defence Oleksii Reznikov, and last week he fired six other deputy defence ministers, also over corruption.
And that’s just the domestic troubles. A long-festering dispute between Poland and Ukraine over the amount of Ukrainian grain being dumped into European markets exploded last week when the prime minister of Poland announced they would no longer be transferring weapons to Ukraine. Both sides have since tried to smooth things over, with everyone claiming it was all overblown, but Russia was already gloating. It was another small but notable victory for the Kremlin, coming just a week after the G20 summit in New Delhi ended with a disgraceful consensus declaration that pretty much endorsed the Russian position on the war.
The upshot is that the unity of the West over Ukraine may be holding, but the central problem with any promise to stick with them “as long as it takes” is that no one knows how long it will take. Ever since Russia failed in its initial attempt at decapitating Kyiv in a three-day “special military operation” in February 2022, Vladimir Putin has made one big bet: that the West would eventually get tired of helping, and Ukrainians would eventually get tired of dying.
These aren’t unrelated. The willingness of Ukrainians to keep fighting has to be at least somewhat contingent on the assumption that it’s not in vain; that the diplomatic support and the flow of arms and aid won’t one day simply stop. But it also works the other way; Ukraine’s allies have to remain convinced that this is all in the service of something worthwhile.
This two-way trust dynamic remains in place for now, but it is shaky, and Russia is doing all it can to rattle it. The incomprehensible decision by Canada to honour a former Nazi, in our Parliament, in front of Zelenskyy, must have the Russians rolling on the floors laughing in their embassy down on Charlotte Street in Ottawa. You couldn’t devise a more perfect exercise in affirming the Kremlin position that Ukraine is a Nazi state, and thus deserves whatever genocide they have coming.
The Speaker of the House, Anthony Rota, has already taken full responsibility for the decision to invite Hunka, but it might not be enough to save his job. Yet while the full effect of this disaster on Canada’s domestic politics is still playing out, for Zelenskyy, and Ukraine, the damage is done. The Ukrainian president may be left wondering whether the journey was worth the cost.
Andrew Potter is the author of On Decline: Stagnation, Nostalgia, and Why Every Year is the Worst One Ever.
The Line is entirely reader funded — no federal subsidy for us! If you value our work and worry about what will happen when the conventional media finishes collapsing, please make a donation today.
The Line is Canada’s last, best hope for irreverent commentary. We reject bullshit. We love lively writing. Please consider supporting us by subscribing. Follow us on Twitter @the_lineca. Fight with us on Facebook. Pitch us something: email@example.com.