Since the dawn of the Cold War, the President of the United States has been colloquially referred to as the “Leader of the Free World,” a title that the rest of the free world has generally accepted because of America’s powerhouse status. The ongoing Ukrainian crisis has started to show that a new leader may be stepping onto the scene: our very own Stephen Harper.
If this situation’s narrative could be compared to the annexation of the Sudetenland by Hitler’s Germany in 1938, Harper has cast himself as Winston Churchill, calling for a hard-line against Russian aggression. Conversely, Obama seems to be more of a Neville Chamberlain, continually stuck in negotiations with a foreign leader who doesn’t seem to care about the world’s opinion, so long as he gets what he wants.
And make no mistake, Putin is getting what he wants. While he has removed any objections over an Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe (OSCE) mission to Ukraine, this mission will not visit Crimea, an act that Russia is interpreting as tacit recognition of is annexation Crimea. Russian Foreign Ministry was quoted as saying that the mission will not enter Crimea because this “became part of Russia.”
While Obama has negotiated with few results, Harper has acted. His was the first, and to date the only, G7 leader to make the journey to Kiev to meet with the interim government and show his support in person, even pledging to restart talks on a trade agreement. He has spoken his mind, stating that Putin, “has not desired to be a partner. He has desired to be a rival.”
As other G7 nations have considered upping sanctions only in response to Russia making further land grabs, Harper has been fighting to increase the sanctions until Russia withdraws from its illegal occupation of the Crimean peninsula. He says, “we simply . . . cannot afford the risk of Europe going back to being a continent . . . where bigger military powers are prepared to invade their neighbours or carve off pieces.”
To merely maintain sanctions now would be to effectively surrender Crimea to Russia, which only serves to enforce Putin’s attitude that he can continue to take parts of former Soviet republics and reintegrate them into the Russian Federation as he wants.
Harper is also calling for the permanent ejection of the Russian Federation from the G8, in line with Russia being excluded from the group’s current meetings.
Canada’s role in all this has not gone unnoticed, with one of Russia’s top parliamentarians singling out our nation for its tough line toward Moscow and support for the new Ukrainian government. Russia has even gone to the length of imposing travel bans on 13 Canadians, including politicians from all three major parties and the head of the Ukrainian-Canadian Congress.
Though many critics have accused both Harper and Foreign Affairs Minister John Baird of abandoning diplomacy, the two men are choosing to uphold Canadian values, rather than stand on the sidelines.
As the crisis continues, talks between the United States and Russia continue to show few results. Diplomacy is not working. The West needs to start following the new “Leader of the Free World,” and crack down on Russia economically until Putin is forced to withdraw.