On January 31, 2023, Green Party leader Elizabeth May gave a press conference in which she revealed that the Green Party under her leadership now supports the transfer of weapons to Ukraine.
As I explained in a post I published several days later, the Green Party unambiguously opposed weapons transfers to Ukraine in three statements it issued in early 2022, under interim leader Amita Kuttner. May’s statements in her January 31 press conference constituted an undeniable reversal of the Green Party’s position. Nevertheless, May denied it. She disingenuously insisted that she had not changed the party’s policy on weapons transfers after all. Under persistent questioning from the CBC’s David Thurton, May attempted to distinguish between ‘defensive’ weapons and ‘offensive’ weapons, but failed to explain why Leopard battle tanks, which Canada had agreed to provide to Ukraine with May’s approval, do not constitute ‘offensive’ weapons.
Then, on February 6, 2023, May offered a fig-leaf to the Green party’s anti-war wing by asking in Parliament what Canada’s government was “doing to press for peace talks, to press for a negotiated solution.” She ended her question by declaring “arms won’t end the war.”
Within hours, the far-right, pro-war Ukrainian Canadian Congress (UCC) erupted in fury at May’s suggestion that Canada should promote negotiations while helping to arm Ukraine to the teeth. It tweeted that May’s comments “showed shocking ignorance by a [leader] of a national political party.”
Within days of the UCC publicly denigrating May for committing the unpardonable sin of calling for negotiations, May sought to placate the UCC by, among other things, participating in a February 14 event co-sponsored by the UCC:
Several days later, Green Party co-leader Jonathan Pedneault gave an interview to CBC Radio’s The House in which he recognized that tanks and fighter jets could be used for offensive purposes, and questioned the wisdom of providing such weapons to Ukraine. This, according to the CBC, made the Greens an “outlier on the Canadian political landscape” – even though a mere 32% of Canadians think that Canada should continue to arm Ukraine.
When Pedneault meekly suggested that Canada should think twice about giving ‘offensive’ weapons to Ukraine, the UCC exploded yet again. It lashed out at Pedneault’s position as a “moral obscenity“.
Predictably, Pedneault swiftly capitulated.
In a statement he published on March 8, he apologized for suggesting that weapons provided to Ukraine might be used for any purpose other than regaining territory it has lost. In so doing, Pedneault swept under the rug the inconvenient fact that Ukraine’s military has repeatedly launched attacks on Russian soil.
In his apology, Pedneault also dismissed the idea that now is the time to negotiate with Russia. Negotiations, he argued, should be undertaken only “when the real prospect of a just settlement for Ukraine manifests itself” (whatever that means).
Then, in April, Pedneault travelled to Ukraine for one week. When he announced his decision to go there, I suggested to him on Twitter that he not confine his visit to areas under Ukrainian control, but that he also visit the city of Donetsk, which is under Russian control. Donetsk has sustained repeated bombardment from Ukrainian military forces, and their shelling of Donetsk pre-dates Russia’s 2022 invasion by many years.
Last week, after returning from Ukraine, Pedneault gave an interview to the Hill Times in which he gave no indication that he had visited Donetsk or any other area that is under Russian control. On the contrary, the Hill Times reported that Pedneault visited Odessa, Kyiv and Kharkiv, all cities under Ukrainian control.
In his comments to the Hill Times, Pedneault expressed no support for negotiations to end the war now, stating:
They [Ukrainians] are not keen on doing that and so it’s perfectly legitimate and normal that Ukraine wants to fight. And Canada has supported that after and we have supported that Canadian action in Parliament.
Rather than advocate for negotiations to end the war, Pedneault talked about post-war reconstruction. He rightly expressed concern about a Ukrainian law against ‘collaboration’ that imposes prison terms of up to 15 years for aiding the Russian military, supporting Russia, or denying Russia’s aggression. According to Pedneault:
“[There are] questions of what to do with people who are suspected of having collaborated with occupying forces. There are some reasonable worries to be had with regards to how the Ukrainian law on collaborators, which was passed in rush right after the invasion, will be applied. I think it will be crucial for the stability for Ukraine and also its long-term prospects to re-engage in transitional justice as much as possible. And that’s something that I hope Canada will be able to support and should start supporting as soon as possible alongside reconstruction… How do you win back some populations that may not necessarily be thrilled with the perspective of the Ukrainian state returning? Those are all questions that need to be discussed. It’s going to be very important that the populations that did live under occupation for a long period of time don’t end up being ostracized or punished because they had to do what they needed to do in order to survive in those circumstances with their homes and villages controlled by the Russian state.”
Moral cowardice masquerading as principled politics
At no point in his comments to the Hill Times did Pedneault mention the right to self-determination.
What if a majority of the people living in the regions now controlled by Russia do not want to live under the rule of the government in Kyiv? Should the international community nonetheless force them to live under Kyiv’s rule?
In 2014, with brazen and aggressive support from the U.S. government and the EU, Ukrainian nationalists violently overthrew the democratically elected Ukrainian President, Viktor Yanukovych. Yanukovych had sought good relations with Russia.
In Ukraine’s 2010 election, Yanukovych’s support came overwhelmingly from the southeast of Ukraine, most of which is now controlled by Russia:
When Yanukovych was overthrown, many of those who had voted for him felt that their vote had been stolen from them.
Since then, they have been subjected to repeated attacks by Ukraine’s military. Crimea itself was subjected to collective punishment when its electricity and water supplies were cut off in 2014 and 2015.
Forcing the people from these regions to live under the rule of Kyiv would be unjust and inhumane. If these regions are not ceded to Russia as part of a peace agreement, then at a bare minimum, there should be an internationally supervised plebiscite to determine their future. Yet May and Pedneault appear to have no sympathy for their right to self-determination. By now, they surely have understood that, were they to invoke that right, the UCC would attack them mercilessly.
Quite apart from the right to self-determination, it behooves us to ask whether the government in Kyiv could be deterred from inflicting massive retribution upon the Russian speakers living in the regions now controlled by Russia. If those persons came under the control of the Ukrainian military, who would prevent the Azov Battalion and other heavily armed, far-right Ukrainian groups from committing atrocities against defenceless, pro-Russian civilians? Are we seriously to believe that Western governments will come to their defence after doing nothing for eight years to restrain Ukrainian attacks on Donetsk?
Even worse, May and Pedneault have now acceded to a deranged Western policy that treats Ukrainians as cannon fodder in a proxy war against a geopolitical rival of the United States, the Russia Federation. That proxy war will almost certainly end in Ukraine’s destruction.
There is not now, nor has there ever been, any credible reason to believe that Ukraine can regain its lost territory by military force. In every conceivable sense, Ukraine is vastly outmatched by Russia. Russia has a far larger population to draw upon to replenish its military forces. It has far more industrial capacity than Ukraine. Ukraine’s economy lies in smoking ruins, whereas Russia’s much larger economy has withstood the sanctions and the costs of war reasonably well. Russia has far greater energy resources, which are essential for the sustainment of large-scale warfare. Russia has far larger air and naval forces than Ukraine. It possesses hypersonic missiles, of which Ukraine and NATO have none. Its air defence systems are much more robust than those of Ukraine. Above all else, Russia has nuclear weapons, whereas Ukraine has none.
All policies, whether foreign or domestic, should be grounded in reality. A policy that is based upon a pack of lies is doomed to failure.
Continuing to arm Ukraine despite the inevitability of its defeat is a recipe for unspeakable Ukrainian suffering. It might also turn out to be a recipe for nuclear war.
If Ukraine’s corrupt and incompetent government wishes to orchestrate an act of national suicide, that is, I suppose, its prerogative, but Western governments are under no obligation to facilitate that suicide. Western governments are free to remain militarily neutral in this conflict, as the vast majority of non-Western governments have elected to do.
Moreover, it is intellectually dishonest to argue that negotiations should occur only after Russia has withdrawn its troops from the regions it now controls, because there is no prospect whatsoever that Russia will withdraw all its troops before a mutually satisfactory peace deal is struck. By doing that, Russia’s government would sacrifice its greatest source of leverage in any negotiations with Ukraine and would expose the pro-Russian inhabitants of the regions it controls to severe Ukrainian retribution. Those who say, as Zelensky does, that Russia must withdraw its troops from all Ukrainian territory before negotiations begin are guaranteeing that no negotiations will occur before Ukraine is destroyed. At that point, Russia will have no incentive to negotiate at all. It will simply dictate the terms of a Ukrainian surrender.
Finally, the Green Party is supposed to be green. Where in all of May’s and Pedneault’s public commentary have they expressed concern for the incalculable damage being inflicted on the environment by this incredibly destructive war? As far as I am aware, Pedneault and May have not even uttered a peep about the Biden administration’s destruction of the Nord Stream pipelines – arguably the worst environmental crime of the 21st century.
Ultimately, nature does not care who wins or loses the Ukraine war. Nature will be ravaged by this war regardless of its military outcome. If we Greens are truly committed to protecting Mother Earth, then we should do all that we can to end this war by negotiations now.
The UCC’s agenda is profoundly hostile to the core values of the Green Party of Canada, which include ecological wisdom, sustainability and non-violence. If Elizabeth May and Jonathan Pedneault cannot stand up to the UCC, they are not worthy to serve as co-leaders of the Green Party of Canada.