Canada, U.S. need to draw red line on nuclear, chemical attacks in Ukraine, says former president

Former Ukrainian president Petro Poroshenko in Kyiv on May 2, 2022. He is urging Canada and the U.S. to draw a red line for Moscow on the use of chemical, biological and tactical nuclear weapons in Ukraine. (Murray Brewster/CBC - image credit)
Former Ukrainian president Petro Poroshenko in Kyiv on May 2, 2022. He is urging Canada and the U.S. to draw a red line for Moscow on the use of chemical, biological and tactical nuclear weapons in Ukraine. (Murray Brewster/CBC - image credit)

The former president of Ukraine is urging Canada to get behind a U.S. representative's initiative to authorize American military force to defend the embattled eastern European country if Russian forces escalate to chemical, biological or nuclear attacks.

Petro Poroshenko, who was president from 2014 to 2019, made the remarks in an interview with CBC News.

On Sunday, Republican congressman Adam Kinzinger, of Illinois, introduced a resolution that would, if passed, authorize U.S. President Joe Biden to use American forces to respond in the event weapons of mass destruction are deployed in Ukraine.

He unveiled the proposal on the CBS network political program Face the Nation. He said the measure is more about warning Moscow and signalling resolve than it is about joining the war.

Poroshenko said that would be precisely the right signal to send at this stage in the war — when Russian troops are making what appear to be limited gains on the conventional battlefield in the eastern and southern portions of Ukraine.

As one of Ukraine's earliest and staunchest backers, Canada needs to get behind Kinzinger's proposal, he said.

"I definitely need support of this initiative of Adam [Kinzinger] from the Canadian parliamentarians and Canadian government," Poroshenko said during an interview at his European Solidarity party headquarters in Kyiv.

Kevin Dietsch/The Associated Press
Kevin Dietsch/The Associated Press

He said that while Ukraine does not "want Canadian soldiers fighting here for us now," it does want political support to "stop a nuclear war" and prevent the use of other weapons of mass destruction.

Russia has shown no overt signs of preparing to unleash chemical, biological or tactical nuclear weapons. A U.S. defence official, speaking on background last week to Reuters, suggested a nuclear strike is not in the cards at the moment, even though Russian President Vladimir Putin has raised the readiness level of the country's nuclear forces.

But there is a persistent fear in the intelligence community and among military experts, inside and outside of Ukraine, that some kind of escalation is imminent because of Russia's limited gains in its war on Ukraine.

Canada's House of Commons last week unanimously passed a motion to label Russia's attacks in Ukraine as "genocide." Many members of Parliament said there was "ample evidence" of war crimes on a massive scale, and of crimes against humanity.

Emilio Morenatti/The Associated Press
Emilio Morenatti/The Associated Press

The motion listed war crimes alleged to have been committed by Russian forces: mass atrocities, systematic killings of Ukrainian civilians, the desecration of corpses, the forcible transfer of Ukrainian children, torture, mental harm and rape.

It's not clear how much support there is for Kinzinger's authorization for the use of military force (AUMF) bill.

Similar legislative mechanisms were used to enable the U.S. war on terror following the attacks of Sept. 11, 2001, and for the invasion of Iraq in 2003. U.S. lawmakers only recently repealed those authorizations, which gave the president broad powers to wage war.

Both Republicans and Democrats argued last year that those specific authorizations had been enlarged beyond recognition. Both the Obama and Trump administrations blocked previous attempts over a decade to repeal the measures.

WATCH | Russian foreign minister warns West's weapons supply to Ukraine risks escalating war:

Would Moscow care?

For that reason, critics in Washington have suggested Kinzinger's initiative may get a lukewarm response.

Kinzinger said his resolution would establish "a red line" for Russia.

A Canadian expert in Ukrainian affairs said he doesn't think Moscow would pay attention to such warnings and doubts the Canadian government has an appetite for such a bold statement.

"Listen, there's been a lot of lines that were crossed [by Russia]," said Dominique Arel, chair of Ukrainian studies at the University of Ottawa.

Russia crossed two red lines by launching a full-scale invasion and targeting civilians — something many observers had not expected, Arel said.

Maxar Technologies/The Associated Press
Maxar Technologies/The Associated Press

Canada, he pointed out, was among the last countries to ship weapons and munitions to Ukraine, even after it became clear an invasion was imminent. He said he wouldn't discount the possibility of Canadian parliamentarians getting on board with Kinzinger's idea, but he questions the effectiveness of such a political signal from the allies.

"We're in the territory now that the Canadian Parliament has been calling genocide — a political statement," Arel said. "But with nuclear weapons, listen, that's the complete unknown.

"So I'm not sure there's a value, politically, that there might be a bill in Congress. I'm not sure the bill will actually pass because the greatest strength here is, to me, strategic ambiguity.

"So you don't actually say what you're going to do, such as sending the soldiers to Ukraine, but you make it clear that this is an absolute taboo and you cannot cross that line."

WATCH | Investigators gather war crimes evidence in Bucha: