By Roger Annis, published also in New Cold War.org, October 11, 2016
Last week, the Globe and Mail daily in Canada published an odd news report featuring the appeal by a representative of the foreign ministry of Ukraine that Canada should cease cooperation with Russia in the Arctic region.
The Ukrainian appeal was prompted by the latest of several statements in the past year by Canadian Foreign Minister Stéphane Dion saying the new Liberal government in Ottawa will not sacrifice Arctic cooperation with Russia on the altar of NATO’s efforts to weaken and destabilize the Russian government.
Canada and Russia will hold a conference in Ottawa next month to discuss their Arctic cooperation.
Considering the Canadian government’s relatively small presence in the Arctic to begin with, there is not much “cooperation” with Russia to give up or continue, as the case may be. But Dion’s statement is part of a calculated effort to sooth Canadians who are concerned with Canada’s close partnering with Washington and the European Union in militarily threatening Russia in Ukraine and in the rest of eastern Europe.
Canada is a NATO member fully engaged in the military alliance’s anti-Russia drive. Dozens of Canadian soldiers are presently training Ukrainian soldiers and paramilitaries for the civil war being waged by the Ukrainian government in the east of that country. At the same time, Canada occupies the lead role in one of the four, new military battalions that NATO is stationing along the Russian border in the Baltic region. Dion told the 25th Triennial Congress of Ukrainian Canadians meeting in Regina on October 1, “We stand shoulder to shoulder with Ukraine when we take a leadership role in enhancing NATO’s deterrents toward Russia, including through the command of the multinational battalion in Latvia.”
The Ukrainian representative in question is Vadym Prystaiko. He was Ukraine’s ambassador to Canada from 2012 to late 2014 and is currently the country’s deputy foreign minister.
The Globe article was authored by a top journalist at the newspaper, Steven Chase, signaling that the Globe‘s hostile attitude to Russia remains in place even if the newspaper has been less verbose of late in its support for the extreme-right government in Kyiv and Kyiv’s neo-Nazi shock brigades.
Chase’s article was peppered with the usual anti-Russia tropes—the 2014 “annexation” of Crimea, Russia’s alleged military intervention into eastern Ukraine, its threatening posture against other neighbouring countries in eastern Europe, etc.
Postmedia‘s lead foreign affairs writer Matthew Fisher chimed in on October 11 with his own argument for breaking Arctic cooperation. His column that day said, “The dreamers now ruling Canada believe a gentler stance can lead to a more trusting relationship with Putin on northern issues.” He added his long-standing argument that the Canadian government should spend multiple billions of dollars buying Lockheed Martin’s controversial F-35 fighter jet as “the best way to defend Arctic air space”.
Russian missile defense in Kaliningrad
Coincidentally, one of the Globe‘s seasoned writers in Europe has also weighed in with a new anti-Russia diatribe, following several months of break from the Russia-bashing beat. Writing on October 8, Mark MacKinnon says Russia has been acting very aggressively for the past two and a half years; that is, ever since NATO backed a coup in Ukraine in February 2014 that installed a right-wing and fanatically anti-Russia government along Russia’s western border.
The scope of scary Russia’s aggression is very broad, writes MacKinnon. His list of transgressions includes the latest news that Russia is moving Iksander-400 missiles to its Baltic Sea territory of Kaliningrad. The territory is located between Poland and Lithuania.
The Iksander-400 is an advanced, mobile air defense system. Russia has installed the missile at its naval base and its air base in Syria, following the shoot-down of one of its warplanes by Turkey 11 months ago.
Russia’s Ministry of Defense has replied to the scare-mongering reporting in Western media by saying that movement of the Iksander missile system, including to Kaliningrad, is a routine part of Russian military drills.
Such drills are no doubt taking on heightened importance following the blatantly provocative move by the United States earlier this year to build medium-range missile bases in its client states of Romania and Poland. But MacKinnon offers a different explanation for Russia’s motives, writing:
A new Cold War, often declared by analysts and often denied by both [U.S. and Russian] governments, felt like a very real thing on Friday [October 8].
The news alerts came in rapid succession: Finland reported Friday that its airspace had been violated by Russian warplanes. Then NATO member Estonia reported the same thing. Later, the Estonian government claimed it was tracking a ferry crossing the Baltic Sea that Tallinn said was delivering nuclear-capable Iskander-M missiles to Russia’s Kaliningrad enclave, a move one Western analyst likened to a “a Baltic version of the Cuban missile crisis”.
MacKinnon and the Globe apparently have no problem at all with the U.S. constructing permanent missile bases in Romania and Poland, located a scant few hundred kilometers from the Russian border. But should Russia respond to such provocations, all hell breaks loose. The motto of Western media in such cases is long-established and goes like this: ‘NATO provocation and expansion eastward in Europe good, Russian reaction in response bad’.
The Polish and Romanian bases house a modified version of Lockheed-Martin’s medium-range AEGIS missile.
The Russian move can hardly be considered threatening, considering the original provocation to which it responds. But such details get in the way of another good ‘Russia did it’ narrative of which the Globe and the rest of Canadian mainstream media have excelled during the past two and a half years.
The Canada-Russia Arctic cooperation that Ukraine wants to sabotage
Back on Arctic cooperation, Canada and Russia are two of the eight members of the Arctic Council, a body founded in 1996 to promote scientific research and other forms of cooperation. Its founding conference was in Ottawa. Member states also include Sweden, Norway, Finland, the United States, Iceland and Denmark (via Greenland). Northern Indigenous peoples in the eight countries also exercise a modicum of representation. Enclosed further below is an excerpt of an article which this author wrote eight months ago on the subject of Canada-Russia Arctic cooperation.
As informed Canadians will be aware, Indigenous peoples comprise the majority of the population of Canada’s Arctic and sub-Arctic region and many live in appalling conditions of poverty and degradation of their national and cultural rights. Indices of well-being for Canada’s northern Indigenous peoples are many times inferior to those of the non-Indigenous population. Health, education, economic conditions, social and institutional violence, rates of suicide, and on and on are many times worse.
The new Liberal government in Ottawa elected one year ago has promised to tackle the Third World conditions in which most of Canada’s approximately 1.5 million Aboriginal people live, including in the far north. But so far, there is little action to indicate change from how previous Liberal governments or even the new government’s immediate, Conservative Party predecessor, led by the reviled Stephen Harper, have acted.
Canada, it turns out, is a laggard when it comes Arctic endeavours, be it the social conditions of the population or scientific research and advancement. That claim comes from a leading Canadian expert on the subject, Michael Byers of the University of British Columbia. He brings strong academic credentials to the claim. As well, he can hardly be accused of sympathy with Russia. He stands in solidarity with Ottawa’s and NATO’s anti-Russia crusade. At a seminar on Arctic cooperation attended by this writer 11 months ago at Simon Fraser University in Vancouver, he called Russian President Vladimir Putin a “thug”. At a September 2014 seminar at the University of British Columbia, he called the Russian government “a dangerous and dark regime”.
Byers also happens to favour Canada undertaking a vigorous program to militarize its presence in the Arctic.
Further marring of Arctic record
Canada’s Arctic reputation has been taking hits as a result of revelations surrounding the country’s signal achievement in the far north in recent years—the discoveries of the two lost ships of Britain’s ill-fated Franklin Expedition of 1845-48. HMS Terror and HMS Erebus were mapping the far northern, east-west ocean passages of the future Canada when they became trapped in ice in 1846. The crews perished with few traces until now except for Inuit oral records and a few surviving notes. Terror was discovered in 2014; Erebus was discovered last month.
The spectacular findings of Terror and Erebus have been marred by the conduct of the private interests involved in the searches. Their role has been disproportionately praised by federal government publicity compared to the roles of scientists working for government institutions. (See: Group that found HMS Terror under investigation by Nunavut government, Canadian Press, Oct 6, 2016; and The wreck of HMS Erebus: How a landmark discovery triggered a fight for Canada’s history, Buzzfeed, Sept 14, 2015.)
The disproportionate praising of for-glory archaeologists and related denigration of scientists on the public payroll fits the pro-capitalist ideologies of Liberal and Conservative governments. The denigration by the Canadian government of science as a whole went so far in recent years as to prohibit scientists from reporting directly to Canadians about their work. They must first vet any announcements with a dedicated government watchdog. Contrary to 2015 Liberal election promises, the blatant policies of muzzling scientists practiced by the previous Conservative government have not been entirely extinguished. (See: Muzzled scientists? Trudeau carries on just like Harper, Aug 8, 2016.)
An under-reported sidenote to the discoveries of the lost ships is that the base scientific vessel used in the search for Terror and Erebus was a former research vessel of the USSR Academy of Science. The Akademik Sergey Vavilov was launched in 1988. Its hull is strengthened for travel in icy waters and today it private owners lease it for scientific research or science-based tourist cruises.
Why would one of Canada’s leading daily newspapers feature the views of a Ukrainian ultra-nationalist wishing to scuttle cooperation between Canada and Russia in the Arctic? Only the newspaper’s editors can answer that for sure. But what is clear is that the Canadian public, threatened by militarism and industrial pollutants in a warming world, gains nothing from such pandering.
Excerpt from ‘Canada now says open to dialogue with Russia, what does this signal?
By Roger Annis, originally published in New Cold War.org, Feb 1, 2016
… Unknown to Canadians and Americans, Arctic cooperation is a model
Foreign Minister [Stéphane] Dion has cited Arctic cooperation as an area where Canada has lost out during the past two years of its anti-Russia policies. Indeed, Canadians (and Americans) don’t know the half of what Dion was referring to.
It turns out that scientific as well as economic cooperation among the eight countries that border the Arctic region has been stellar for decades and, fortunately, has not suffered much from the NATO-led folly and confrontations of the past two years. Given that the Arctic is ground zero of the visible, calamitous consequences of global warming, it’s good news that Arctic cooperation is surviving. (The bad news is that this cannot stop the inexorable melting of the Arctic region’s ice cover, but that’s another story.)
Canadians, for one, will be utterly in the dark over the record of Arctic cooperation because the chosen angle of reportage of this subject in mainstream media in Canada is, surprise!, that Russia is a threat to Canada’s interests and ambitions in the region.
For example, the sub-headline to an article by Scott Gilmore in Maclean’s magazine on November 15, 2015, reads, ‘All of Moscow’s effort and attention, combined with Canada’s neglect, has effectively turned the Arctic Ocean into Putin’s Lake’. He writes:
Justin Trudeau recently promised to push back “the bully that is Vladimir Putin”. Supporters may enthusiastically imagine the tall boxer staring down the short black belt. [Editor’s note: Justin Trudeau is an accomplished boxer; Vladimir Putin possesses a black belt in martial arts.] Unfortunately, the more accurate picture would have Trudeau sitting on a battered snowmobile, craning his neck to see Putin standing far above him on the bridge of a nuclear-powered icebreaker.
Brian Stewart, an eminence grise of the CBC state broadcaster wrote earlier the same month:
An oddity of Canada’s foreign policy of late is how gravely we viewed Russia’s expanding power in distant Eastern Europe and Syria, yet took scarce note of Moscow’s actions closer to our own Arctic and Asia-Pacific interests.
Even allowing for the vast distances involved, Vladimir Putin’s strategic thrusts are almost on our doorstep and may well require far more serious attention from the incoming Liberal government.
A common theme of the scare-mongering reporting is that Canada needs to boost its military spending and presence in the Arctic in order to confront an aggressive Russia.
A very different view of the Arctic is provided by Dr. Michael Byers of the University of British Columbia, an expert on all things Arctic. He spoke at a public forum attended by this writer in Vancouver last November 18 (2015). The theme of the forum was ‘Russia, the Arctic and crisis in Ukraine’.
Dr. Byers is a professor in UBC’s Department of Political Science. He holds a Canada Research Chair in Global Politics and International Law. His work focuses on Arctic sovereignty, climate change, the law of the sea and Canadian foreign and defence policy. He has written several books on the Arctic, including the 2013 International Law and the Arctic.
Perhaps to the surprise of many in the audience on November 18 (given the title of the event), Byers explained that Russia’s scientific cooperation in the Arctic has been stellar for decades and remains so. He cited a string of scientific, political and transport treaties and agreements going back decades among the eight member countries of the Arctic Council–Russia, the United States, Canada, Denmark, Norway, Iceland, Finland and Sweden.
Worse news for the war party in Canada was Byer’s claim that Canada is the laggard among Arctic countries on matters scientific, social and otherwise. The most glaring example of Canada’s neglect and abuse of its Arctic territory is the scandalous social and economic conditions of the Indigenous peoples of Canada’s north. A great many live in Third World conditions.
Canada’s search and rescue capacity in the north is scant. Most of it is located thousands of kilometres away to the south.
Concerning Canada’s scientific capacity in the north, Byers reported its shortcomings as well as the cuts and the silencing of scientists during the Harper government years that made things worse. He reported the embarrassing fact that the lead vessel in the Canadian expedition which in September 2014 located one of the two lost ships from Britain’s 1845 Franklin Expedition was Russian. (This fact was utterly unreported in all the Canadian government and media hoopla that accompanied the finding.)
Earlier, in September 2014, Michael Byers took part in a public forum at UBC titled, Arctic War or Arctic Peace? The Stakes for Canada’. The forum was a debate between him and a pro-military ideologue arguing for more confrontation with Russia.
Byers told the forum, “On Arctic security, in my view, the overriding issue is climate change.” He argued that competing states, including Russia, are no threat to Canada’s ambitions in the Arctic, outside of the normal waxing and waning of international politics.
“There is a tendency in the media to ‘hype up’ the threats from other states [in the Arctic],” he said.
Byers argued that the positive attitude towards cooperation in the Arctic by Russia has remained unchanged since the events in Ukraine. He repeated that claim at the November 2015 forum. (He says, perhaps cynically, that Russia’s cooperation stems from the fact that Russia has benefitted economically and otherwise for decades from a cooperative rather than confrontational Arctic arrangement.)
All the more remarkable in Byers’ comments is that he counts himself among the Russia-bashers in Canada. He argues for a big military expansion of Canada in the Arctic, in part to counter Russian influence. At the November 2015 forum, he told the audience, “Let’s be clear, I believe Vladimir Putin is a thug.” He said that Russia staged a brutal “annexation” of Crimea in early 2014.
He told the Sept 2014 forum, “There are reasons to be concerned about the Putin regime, serious reasons to be concerned about the Putin regime.” He called Russia “a dangerous and dark regime”.
At the November 2015 forum, Byers made his standard pitch for increased military spending. “We are the second largest country in the world, we need a larger military.”
Note in original:
 Aboriginal people make up the majority of the population in Canada’s north. They suffer multiple times higher rates of poverty, illness and disease, including scandalously high rates of youth suicide, compared to the rest of the country.
The very high cost of food in the north is one of the reasons for the overall public health emergency. A Nov 4, 2014 Globe and Mail article series reported, “About 13 per cent of Canadian households – that’s about four million people, including 1.15 million children – experienced some level of food insecurity in 2012, according to a 2014 report by PROOF, an interdisciplinary team of researchers focused on issues of food insecurity. In Nunavut [comprising most of the Canadian Arctic Archipelago], the figure was 45.2 per cent.”