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Joe Varner: Abandoning Ukraine means surrendering the rules-based liberal world order

Commentary

Ukraine is about to become the burial ground for the western rules-based global order, NATO, and the EU. The world’s dictators are watching. Vladimir Putin is at the top of his power with Russia, Belarus, Kazakhstan, and Ukraine about to fall in his order. Iran is about to cross the threshold as a nuclear weapon state as its terrorist proxy militias carry out attacks across the Middle East with impunity. North Korea is threatening to test nuclear weapons and intercontinental ballistic missiles. Beijing is preparing to seize the South China Sea from Taipei to Manila and most of Northern India. They want to see the end of the rules-based order and the U.S. global alliance system like there is no tomorrow. 

World leaders forget Russian President Vladimir Putin’s record of military intervention at their peril. Putin has fought the Second Chechen War in 1999, the Russo-Georgian War in 2008, the invasion of Ukraine and seizure of Crimea in 2014, the Syrian Civil War in 2015, and Kazakhstan in 2022. He has not flinched in the face of global condemnation, sanctions, threatened outside intervention, economic pain, casualties, use of weapons of mass destruction (as witnessed in Syria), or domestic dissent. A wider war with Ukraine is not going to force him to back down while his NATO and EU opposition appears weak, disjointed, and risk-averse. As much as he wants to destroy Ukraine as a sovereign state, he also wants to destroy the credibility of the U.S.-led world order, of NATO, and the EU. U.S. President Joe Biden’s “slip of the lip” suggestion that a limited Russian incursion into Ukraine could be ignored has only added to the uncertainty and difficulty in finding a peaceful solution to the crisis. 

Signals from Washington that the U.S. has ordered the evacuation of all non-essential personnel and their families from the American embassy in Ukraine only strengthen the Kremlin view that the West won’t fight for Kiev no matter what is at stake. Minimalist efforts from the U.S., Britain, the Netherlands, and the Baltic States to send anti-tank weapons, anti-aircraft missiles, and other lethal aid to Ukraine to help in its defence are not effective unless the Ukrainian military is also trained how, where, and when to use them.

Germany seems to have refused the overflight of its territory, forcing Britain to fly its weapons shipments to Ukraine around Germany. Germany seems set on neutrality in this Ukrainian-Russian conflict at the expense of the NATO alliance, EU, and Ukraine in exchange for Russian oil and gas. Turkey has warned there will be no more drone sales to Ukraine if any more videos appear of the Ukrainians using drones to attack Russian positions in the Donbas. At the end of the day, without firing a shot Vladimir Putin has succeeded in exposing the divisions in the political stratosphere of the NATO alliance and the EU beyond his wildest dreams. A larger Russia and Ukrainian War will only exasperate these now apparent divisions.

When it comes to actual conflict, Russia has a huge overall numeric advantage over Ukraine. In terms of manpower, Russia has Ukraine 4:1, in fighter planes 22:1, in attack helicopters 15:1, in main battle tanks 5:1, in armoured vehicles 2.5:1, and in artillery 2.4:1. When Russia’s precision strike capabilities and air defence forces are brought to bear, Ukraine stands little chance against an invasion force.

This is especially true if Russia moves off-road and stays out of street fighting in major Ukrainian cities. Russia has deployed precision strike missiles that could strike any Ukrainian location from inside Russian territory or the Black Sea. Weapons like the SS-26 short-range ballistic missile system, with a range of 250 to 350 kilometers, are currently deployed near Ukraine. Russia can also strike Ukraine with systems like the 500 kilometre -ranged SSC-7 ground-launched cruise missile, the 1500 kilometre-range naval SS-N-30A Kalibr land-attack cruise missile, or the strategic bomber-launched Kh-555 or Kh-101 cruise missile with ranges estimated at 2,000 to 4,000 kilometres. 

More than 130,000 troops, or 60 plus self-contained Battalion Tactical Groups (BTGs), have been deployed around Ukraine, from Russia’s Western Military District to the Eastern Military District and the border with North Korea. Russian reserve units have been called up across the country. Now rail has deployed as many as 100-140 BTGs to Belarus to deter NATO and help with the invasion of Ukraine by threatening Kiev directly. These are ostensibly for “exercises”, yet dwarf the massive Russian presence for last year’s Zapad exercise. If Russian airborne units now returned from Kazakhstan are committed from the Western Military District it would add another 30,000 troops to the Russian order of battle. We have seen pictures of large numbers of T-72s fitted with external fuel barrels, snorkels, and mine plows, meaning they are not stopping for any obstacle and are going off-road. Russian Su-35S fighter planes have been deployed to Belarus, along with S-400 and Pantsir air defense systems. Russia has forward deployed several squadrons of Su-35S fighter planes to the Western Military District opposite Ukraine, meaning air superiority for Russia is a given fact. 

When it comes to actual conflict, Russia has a huge overall numeric advantage over Ukraine.

Russian military options include a decapitation strike on the Ukrainian leadership to replace it with a pro-Russian government in exile in Moscow; formalizing the seizure of the Donbas; the seizure of Ukraine’s southern coast up to Transnistria along with Mariupol and Odesa and the city of Kharkiv in the east; the seizure of Ukraine up to the Dnieper and leaving it to whither as a failed state; or an all-out offensive to capture the country.

Russia is now in the process of deploying some 250-350,000 troops, nearly surrounding Ukraine from the north, west, and to the south. The UK Foreign Office has warned that Russian intelligence is also collaborating with several former Ukrainian officials who fled to Moscow in winter 2014 and are looking to return to positions of power in Kiev after a Russian invasion. Other reports suggest Moscow is drawing up a list of people that they could turn to in Ukraine’s intelligence and security services to help run the country after the Russian occupation.

As part of its efforts to deter NATO from coming to Ukraine’s defence, it can be expected that Russia will carry out war games with its Strategic Rocket Forces, Air Force, and Navy. True to style, six large Russian amphibious ships of the Northern and Baltic fleets are transiting south for likely amphibious operations in the Black Sea. Russia is holding snap naval drills around the country including a newly scheduled live-fire drill in the Irish Sea. Nation-wide coast-to-coast naval exercises will involve more than 140 warships, 1,000 pieces of military equipment, 10,000 troops, and some 60 aircraft. The Russians view the area of ocean southwest of Ireland as a key naval access point and carry out exercises here geared towards defeating North America-based NATO reinforcements attempting to come to the aid of embattled NATO forces in Europe.

The U.S. approach right now relies on naval forces to deter Moscow and Beijing. The U.S., for its part, has deployed its aircraft carrier battle groups to match and deter Russian naval forces, with the USS Harry Truman deploying to the Mediterranean Sea. The USS Carl Vinson and two amphibious assault ships, the USS Essex and USS America, along with Japan’s aircraft carrier JS Hyagu, have been deployed to the Philippine Sea to deter China from acting out in the Pacific under the cover of a Russian invasion of Ukraine. Sunday saw Beijing send 39 warplanes on an incursion of Taiwan’s air defense zone. The USS Ronald Reagan and USS Abraham Lincoln carrier strike groups are in and around Japan. But more powerful U.S. naval forces need to be forward deployed to European waters if they are to have any impact on Vladimir Putin’s game plan. 

At the end of the day, Putin is prepared to score the east of Europe and Ukraine at the expense of the U.S., NATO, and the EU. We are at the stage where only western military pushback all across the line makes a difference in the Russian equation of victory. It’s time that the NATO alliance found itself and pushed back hard on Russia in Ukraine before it is too late. The time has come for NATO to deploy its strategic airborne and special forces (along with supporting airpower, including squadrons of A-10 tank busters) to Ukraine to warn off its Russian opponent, or surrender the western world-based order to Russia and the dictators. The decision is ours. We stand on the precipice.

Christine Van Geyn: B.C.’s vaccine policy unjustly disadvantages minority groups

Commentary

British Columbia’s “temporary” health measures have once again become a little less temporary. On January 18, BC’s Provincial Health Officer Dr. Bonnie Henry announced that the government was extending events and gatherings restrictions until February 16. Dr. Henry also confirmed that there would be no relaxation of the province’s proof of vaccination policy.

When asked how long the proof of vaccination policy would remain in place, Dr. Henry stated that there have been no final decisions about its duration. Dr. Henry’s comments were followed by Health Minister Adrian Dix, who praised the proof of vaccination program as “popular” with British Columbians.

But British Columbians and Canadians should be concerned. Civil liberties advocates have rightly warned against the rationale for measures like vaccine passports. They change the nature of society from an open and liberal one to one where we are required to show “papers” to go about our daily lives, and as such, should be strictly time-limited. The government’s continued pushing back of endpoints for this policy is also troubling, especially because there is no indication of what criteria needs to be met in order for these restrictions to end for good.

In particular, the rationale for proof of vaccination policies has become more questionable now that vaccination is proving to be less effective against contraction and transmission of the Omicron variant. Yet, in light of this evidence, the government is not questioning the efficacy of this policy and is instead contemplating expanding it.

Minister Dix’s view that the policy is “popular” is hardly a justification for it because decisions about fundamental freedoms shouldn’t be made on the basis of public opinion. The very fact that this policy disadvantages a minority group—those with certain physical disabilities who cannot be vaccinated for medical reasons—is a clear example of why rights are not granted on the basis of popularity. John Locke long warned against the tyranny of the majority. It’s why we have a constitution after all.

This is in fact the biggest problem with B.C.’s vaccine passport: the failure to accommodate people who cannot be vaccinated for medical reasons. This near blanket application of the policy has led the legal charity, the Canadian Constitution Foundation, to call B.C.’s vaccine passport policy the “worst in Canada”. Now the B.C. vaccine passport policy is the subject of several legal challenges, including one by the CCF.

The CCF’s legal challenge to the vaccine passport policy takes issue with the lack of an effective, comprehensive, and accessible regime for medical exemptions. The CCF, along with three individuals, has brought a petition challenging the regime to the Supreme Court of British Columbia.

The first individual involved in this constitutional challenge is a teen girl named Erica. Shortly after getting her first dose of the COVID-19 vaccine, Erica developed a rare but well-documented adverse reaction: a form of heart inflammation called pericarditis. Erica’s physicians have told her not to get a second dose. Although pericarditis is on the PHO’s approved list of recognized grounds for a medical “deferral” from vaccination, the B.C. policy does not entitle Erica to a general exemption from the vaccine passport policy. Instead, Erica must apply to the Public Health Office for an exemption on an activity-by-activity basis. There is no option for a general exemption that would allow Erica to be treated the same as a fully vaccinated person. There is no timeline for approval of these activity-by-activity exemptions, so there is no guarantee that time-sensitive requests could be heard and approved. Something as minor as a last-minute dinner with friends, or as significant as attending a funeral, may not be approved by PHO in time for Erica to attend—if indeed either would be approved at all.

As a result, Erica is presumptively excluded from all vaccine-passport-required venues unless she obtains specific permission from the PHO to attend a particular venue or event. She is not treated as a free citizen entitled to direct her own life but is subject to the PHO’s veto power and government approval or denial of permission for each place she wants to go.

But Erica at least has the option to apply for an exemption. The other individuals in the CCF’s petition do not even have this ability.

The second individual in the petition, Sharon, also experienced an adverse reaction to her first dose of the COVID-19 vaccine. However, Sharon’s reaction is even rarer than Erica’s. She developed a neurological condition called brachial neuritis with scapular winging, which has caused extreme pain and partial paralysis of her right (and dominant) arm. Sharon consulted with multiple specialists, including neurologists and physiatrists (a kind of rehabilitation specialist doctor, often for treating functional impairments involving the nervous and muscular-skeletal systems) who believe that this condition was an adverse reaction to her COVID-19 vaccine. Sharon’s doctors are unable to assure her that her second dose will not result in a repeat or worsening of the nerve damage. Sharon is also now pregnant and concerned that any worsening or repeated nerve damage could impact her unborn baby, or her ability to care for her baby once born.

Despite all this, B.C. Public Health has nonetheless advised Sharon to get a second dose. Sharon’s condition is also not reflected on the PHO’s closed list of accepted reactions upon which a vaccine passport exemption can be granted. Even though Sharon’s treating doctors have warned her of the risk of further adverse reactions because of her medical condition, she is ineligible to even request an exemption.

The third individual involved in the CCF petition is a woman named Veronica, who has multiple complex and overlapping disabilities, has undergone over 15 surgeries for these disabilities, many of which had poor recoveries, and has had adverse reactions to various medications throughout her life. Because of her medical history, Veronica has declined to get vaccinated against COVID-19. This is a very personal trade-off that Veronica has had to make about her own health. Informed consent is a touchstone of the law in this area, recognizing that it is for the individual, not their doctor or the government, to decide how much treatment or risk to run in pursuit of reducing other risks.

However, Veronica’s situation is not reflected in the PHO list of medical exemptions, making her ineligible to even request an exemption. This is having an especially negative impact on Veronica, as she is mobility impaired. She relies on public swimming pools for three hours per day of swim therapy to reduce the chronic pain she lives with as a result of her disabilities. This swim therapy represents most of Veronica’s daily mobility. However, the vaccine passport policy now excludes Veronica from all public swimming pools. Without being able to do swim therapy, Veronica has increased pain and needs to take more nerve-blocking medication.

These are the people who are forced to live with a policy Minister Dix has seemingly justified because it’s “popular.” While it is mercifully true that adverse reactions to the COVID-19 vaccine are rare, and that conditions that prevent vaccination are uncommon, this does not mean such reactions and conditions do not exist, or that those who suffer from them can simply be brushed aside. And the popularity of the policy with the majority does not justify the harm the policy is doing to this small minority. Moreover, as a liberal society, we must make accommodations for these cases. The CCF and the individuals in the petition are eagerly awaiting the scheduling of the hearing for this challenge.