Someone asked me the other day, where is Winston Churchill when we need him? Sadly, he is not available, but his prototype may well be emerging in the person of Volodymyr Zelenskyy, president of Ukraine. That is if he can manage to survive over the next week or two. Either way, he is on the road to becoming a war hero or a martyr for his country.
Several years ago, when Zelenskyy was elected president of Ukraine, many people on the international stage laughed. After all, his most prominent credential was as a professional comedian. He was not expected to be a strong leader.
But many of those same movers and shakers are eating those words today as the Ukrainian president and his people stand virtually alone against one of the world’s superpowers, led by an apparent psychopath who seems ready and willing to risk a global confrontation in order to get what he wants.
We saw a bit of Zelenskyy’s mettle a few years ago when he refused to be bullied by then-president Donald Trump. But now, in a David and Goliath confrontation with Russia, there can be no doubt that this man is a courageous leader and, like the citizens of the country he leads, certainly no pushover. Zelenskyy’s response to an offer by the United States to get him out of Ukraine, will go down in history: “I need ammunition,” he proclaimed, “not a ride.”
Today, Putin has offered to enter into negotiations with Ukraine, but they are a farce and an excuse for further intervention. As Bob Rae, Canada’s ambassador to the United States has said, “A serious offer of a negotiation would start with a ceasefire, and an agreement to meet in a third country, not in a puppet state that has been taken over by the Russian army. Negotiators would have no security or safety. Russians are not serious.”
Astonishingly though, based on news reports today, it appears that Ukraine has agreed to these talks with Russia without any preconditions, including a ceasefire. There are indications that the Ukraine president will meet with the president of Russian-controlled Belarus at their mutual borders. One can only hope that in agreeing to these talks (assuming he has), Volodymyr Zelenskyy knows something the rest of the world does not, because the chances of Putin negotiating in good faith or backing down without a clear win are slim to none.
In fact, it is hard to see a peaceful ending to this unprovoked war. Tensions world-wide are running as high as they have in decades. And on the very day Putin proposes “negotiations” with Ukraine, he also puts Russia’s nuclear-deterrent forces on full alert. He is threatening the entire world.
And how is the world reacting? Well, that’s a mixed bag and a high-wire act. No one wants to give Putin any excuse to start a nuclear war. On the other hand, they stand up to him now, or they face an emboldened Putin later.
Routine sanctions will not be an effective deterrent, especially the freezing of personal assets. Putin and his cronies would have known this would be coming weeks ago and protected themselves to the degree possible.
Other sanctions, however, may be more effective. Many of us who are not experts in the financial field would not be familiar with SWIFT. It is the main global payments system used by banks to make cross-border money transfers. Today, most Western countries including those in the European Union, the United Kingdom, the United States, and Canada have agreed to effectively expel Russia from SWIFT which could have a catastrophic effect on their internal banking systems. There are, however, risks to this as it may push Russia closer to an arrangement with China to circumvent this expulsion.
China of course is watching events in the Ukraine with keen interest and seeing a possible advantage in Russia’s Ukraine invasion. If Putin succeeds in unilaterally annexing Ukraine, will that embolden them to fulfill their claim for Taiwan? Of course, they are being typically “Chinese” at the moment. On the one hand they recognize Ukraine’s sovereignty, and on the other the right of Russia to protect their security.
But make no mistake, as stated recently in POLITICO, “The Chinese government has made clear that it will remain a strategic ally of Russia despite President Vladimir Putin being viewed globally as the aggressor in the war.”
The bottom line is this. Vladimir Putin, and he alone, has begun a formal process of unilateral aggression that has the real potential of threatening global peace. There are many similarities to what is happening now and what took place immediately prior to World War Two. The huge and frightening difference is the type of sophisticated weaponry that is now available and was, generally, not then.
The United Nations, not surprisingly, is impotent when it comes to keeping peace. Never was that more apparent than this past week when Russia was able to veto a motion approved by the majority of the Security Council to condemn the invasion of Ukraine. If there is not a mechanism to kick a clear aggressor, especially one with a veto, out of the Security Council, there certainly should be.
So, what now? Hopefully a united NATO, aggressive diplomacy, and critical sanctions will work. We have been on the brink of war before, and it has been avoided. But there is a tremendous challenge to world order right now that must be addressed.
Who then is going to step forward to do just that? The answer to that question is critical to our future.
We are sitting on a tinderbox here.
Hugh Mackenzie has held elected office as a trustee on the Muskoka Board of Education, a Huntsville councillor, a District councillor, and mayor of Huntsville. He has also served as chairman of the District Muskoka and as chief of staff to former premier of Ontario, Frank Miller.
Hugh has served on a number of provincial, federal and local boards, including chair of the Ontario Health Disciplines Board, vice-chair of the Ontario Family Health Network, vice-chair of the Ontario Election Finance Commission, and board member of Roy Thomson Hall, the National Theatre School of Canada, and the Anglican Church of Canada. Locally, he has served as president of the Huntsville Rotary Club, chair of Huntsville District Memorial Hospital, chair of the Huntsville Hospital Foundation, president of Huntsville Festival of the Arts, and board member of Community Living Huntsville.
In business, Hugh Mackenzie has a background in radio and newspaper publishing. He was also a founding partner and CEO of Enterprise Canada, a national public affairs and strategic communications firm established in 1986.
Currently, Hugh is president of C3 Digital Media Inc., the parent company of Doppler Online, and he enjoys writing commentary for Huntsville Doppler.
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