The attacks being lobbied on Ukraine by Russia represent the first significant time since the end of the Cold War where national borders are being crossed in Europe.
While there’s been conflicts in the region, in Bosnia and Kosovo, for example, those offensives were generally understood to be internal conflict.
We thought with the fall of the Berlin Wall and the collapse of the Soviet Union we had a comparatively stable post Cold War international order there. Now we’ve got interstate rivalry and the return of great power politics.Jack Cunningham, Program Coordinator, Bill Graham Centre for Contemporary International History at University of Toronto
After the Berlin Wall fell in 1988, American political scientist Francis Fukuyama had said that we were at the end of history. It now appears that history is returning with a vengeance.
It looks as though Putin is intent on establishing Russia as a major player and a world power, and that has implications for the stability of the liberal international order, in which Canada, and our allies, is very much invested.
Cunningham says that in turn, there’s a lot at stake for Canadians.
“We like to live in a stable world where goods and people, investment and so on can flow with relative predictability,” he says. “That’s hard when you’ve got cross-border aggression on a large scale.”
He adds that there’s also the fact that this might not be the end of Putin’s extravagant ambitions, which have been apparent in his recent speeches.
This is a man who thinks in world historical terms.Jack Cunningham, Program Coordinator, Bill Graham Centre for Contemporary International History at University of Toronto
Joseph Stalin’s biographer, Stephen Kotkin, placed Putin in a long line of Russian imperialist leaders out to reconstitute Imperial Russia as a great power. Cunningham says that a world with Russia as a great power - given that it would not be a democratic power - would be “less predictable, less safe, less staple and hence less congenial to Canadians.”
While economically, Russia isn’t considered a superpower, its possession of nuclear weapons makes it a great threat.
Cunningham says internationally, the unfolding of the events in Ukraine isn’t good for anyone, except maybe China, which he calls another ‘revisionist power on the international stage.”
“It’s not a coincidence that we’ve seen (Russia and China) making lovey dovey eyes at each other,” he says. “The more the two of them form acts of revisionist powers, the less stable things are worldwide.”
In the meantime, Canada can continue levying sanctions against Russia and against Putin and his inner circle, in an attempt to soften his power. Canada and other NATO allies can also provide military assistance in Ukraine, which Cunningham says would clearly be welcomed.
“(Ukraine) can really use things like modern anti-aircraft defence, which NATO allies are in the position to furnish,” he explains. “The more that we can make it likely that Putin gets a bloody nose in Ukraine, the less likely he is to persist into, for example, the Baltics or Poland.”