Russia's invasion of Ukraine a 'turning point' in world history: defence chief

Canada’s chief of defence says Russia’s invasion of Ukraine is going to change the course of history.

In an interview with CTV Question Period host Evan Solomon, the Canadian Armed Forces’ Chief of the Defence Staff Gen. Wayne Eyre called the invasion “a long-term threat.”

“I would say on Feb. 24, the world changed and what we're facing now, history may view as a turning point,” he said. “But it's going to be a world that is characterized by confrontation – confrontation between authoritarian states on one part and liberal democracies on the next.”

Despite Russia’s brutal efforts, Ukraine’s President Volodymyr Zelenskyy has run an effective communications campaign, speaking to world leaders, celebrities, and even Canadian university students to garner support for his cause.

But with Putin meeting with leaders from China, Brazil, and India, Eyre said the world is likely going to become further entrenched into two camps.

“Russia has been humiliated, given Ukrainian successes, [but] their memory is going to be long,” Eyre said. “And so this is going to be with us for some time, and we've got to maintain our resolve as the West as a group of like-minded, friendly nations who share common values.”

Looming over the division between these authoritarian states and liberal democracies, Eyre said, is the threat of the nuclear option.

“We are seeing rhetoric about the use of nuclear weapons that we haven't seen in, you know, perhaps decades, if not longer,” he said. “We are seeing the norms of territorial integrity – as we've seen with the Russian invasion of Ukraine – completely disregarded. So again, the world may view this as a turning point and we need to be ready.”

Despite Ukraine and NATO’s best efforts, Eyre said the war in eastern Europe is far from over.

“The war in Ukraine has devolved to one of attrition,” Eyre said. “It's not going to be over tomorrow. It is going to last a long time.”

WHAT CAPACITY DOES CANADA HAVE TO HELP?

If Canada is to play a role as part of NATO in defending Ukraine, and possibly other liberal democracies in the future, Eyre said the Canadian military’s capacity and stockpile will need to be beefed up.

“We took our eye off the ball after the Cold War in terms of maintaining war stocks, and industry right now does not have the capacity to rapidly ramp up,” he said. “And so we need to be able to do this as a team.”

Canada’s contributions to NATO could be under the spotlight as members of the organization meet in Madrid next week. Canada has so far failed to meet the NATO target of contributing 2 per cent of the country’s GDP to defence spending, currently budgeting around 1.39 per cent. In order to reach NATO’s target, Canada would have to commit to spend billions more annually.

Though Eyre declined to comment on whether Canada should be moving to meet that target, he said that the Canadian Armed Forces needs to be better equipped under the current threat environment.

“What I can say is the military that we have today is not the military that we need for the future,” he said, adding that Canada needs more ammunition, capabilities, and more troops.

Canada has supported Ukraine’s military since Russian forces first attacked on Feb. 24, with more than $500 million in military aid promised in April's federal budget. The federal government says it has provided more than $150 million in aid since then, including artillery shells, drones and satellite imagery. The government has also sent four artillery guns and several armoured vehicles.

But as the federal government sends support in the form of weapons and monetary aid, Eyre said he worries about our capabilities should Canada need to join the war in the future with boots on the ground.

“Are we prepared? Yes. Do we have everything we need that I would like? No,” Eyre said. “No military commander in history has had everything that they want. But I can say that there are critical shortfalls that we need to address in the short-term.”

But Canada may be lacking the political will to address these critical shortfalls. In March, Foreign Affairs Minister Melanie Joly told CTV’s Question Period that Canada is “not a nuclear power, it is not a military power, we're a middle-size power,” and that Canada’s role internationally is about “convening” and ensuring diplomacy is taking place.

On Cdn response to war in Ukraine @melaniejoly tells @EvanLSolomon Canada will continue to work with the G7, saying: "Canada is not a nuclear power, it is not a military power, we're a middle-size power" and that Canada is "good at convening".
More at https://t.co/YQe50FHb6K. pic.twitter.com/xtBmMRRm4B

— CTV Power Play (@CTV_PowerPlay) March 15, 2022

When asked about Joly’s comment, Eyre said he could not speak to it directly, but said Canada’s military legacy is one of intervention when necessary.

“If you take a look at our history, and what we have accomplished in World War I, in World War II, in the Korean War, in Afghanistan … when it's necessary to fight, Canadians fight, and we've got that, we've got that tradition to follow up on, to rest on,” Eyre said. “So we've got to continue to prepare for that worst case, continue to prepare to be the nation's ultimate insurance policy.”

With files from Rachel Aiello and The Associated Press