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The war in Ukraine may not go nuclear, but don’t expect it to end soon

News

On the one-year anniversary of the Russian invasion of Ukraine, the most urgent questions remain whether the conflict will go nuclear and when it will end.

According to experts, the chances of a nuclear exchange have gone down, but the prospect of a long, grueling war remains high.

With NATO members recently agreeing to provide modern battle tanks to Ukraine’s armed forces, Vladimir Putin and other high-ranking members of the Russian government have hinted at nuclear conflict in response. 

With a new mobilization announced by Russia to continue the war effort, Elbridge Colby, the former U.S. Deputy Assistant Secretary of d for Strategy and Force Development, says he is less concerned about nuclear conflict than he was in recent months. 

“The Russian mobilization effort is a downside. It’s bad,” says Colby. “But one of the silver linings to it is that it appears to indicate that the Russians don’t think they need to use nuclear weapons that much.” 

Despite the rhetoric from Putin and others in his government, a November statement from the Russian Ministry of Foreign Affairs publicly stated that Russia remained opposed to escalating nuclear threats. 

“We are strongly convinced that in the current complicated and turbulent situation, caused by irresponsible and impudent actions aimed at undermining our national security, the most immediate task is to avoid any military clash of nuclear powers,” read the statement from the ministry. 

Colby says that if Putin was serious about using nuclear weapons, he probably would not continue to conduct large-scale mobilizations and conventional offensives. However, Colby cautions against completely writing off the potential use of nuclear weapons. 

“I think the nuclear dimension is very real and serious,” says Colby. “It’s something we should take seriously. But right now, I’m a little less worried than I was, but that could change again.” 

On Tuesday, Putin suspended Russian participation in the New START treaty, a U.S.-Russia nuclear arms control treaty signed in 2010. 

“Our relations have degraded, and that’s completely and utterly the U.S.’s fault,” said Putin during Russia’s annual state of the nation address. “If the U.S. conducts tests, then so will we. Nobody should have any illusions that global strategic parity can be destroyed.”

As for the war in Ukraine itself, Colby says its course will ultimately be determined on the battlefield.

Balkan Devlen, a senior fellow at the Macdonald-Laurier Institute, is of the same opinion and expects a Russian defeat if the Kremlin eventually decides the cost of prosecuting the war is too high. 

“When we get there, and how we get there, is a big question,” says Devlen. “As long as the Western support for Ukraine continues, Ukrainians will continue to fight, and, therefore, the end of the war will be determined on the battlefield in a way, if and when the Russians decide that the cost is too high.” 

That cost to Russia may occur from damage to its economy, especially through Western Europe’s attempts to wean itself off cheap Russian oil and gas, which, prior to the invasion, had created a mutually beneficial relationship between the EU and the Russian Federation. 

Despite opposition from some EU member states like Hungary, the EU’s economic leaders like Germany and the Netherlands have curtailed Russian energy imports and attempted to diversify their natural gas sources. 

“I cannot see them (EU) going back to being dependent on Russian energy as well,” says Devlen. “That also radically decreases Russia’s ability to restructure its economy and rely on (that) particular set of revenues.” 

In 2020, energy exports accounted for the majority of Russian exports, while nearly half of Russia’s GDP was dependent on trade. By comparison, trade accounted for 25 percent of the American GDP and 37 percent of Japan’s GDP in 2021, according to the World Bank. 

However, Russia’s economy defied numerous predictions in 2022 that an economic collapse was coming due to sanctions. Colby says Russia’s economy has proved remarkably stable and is transitioning to a wartime economy. 

“The Russian economy is expected to grow faster than the British economy next year,” says Colby, while also citing a Wall Street Journal article reporting that shops in Russia’s largest cities are, on the surface, operating normally. 

Both Devlen and Colby say people should expect a long war in Ukraine that will not end in 2023. 

Canada opens up a multi-pronged effort to battle wrongful convictions

News

On March 1, 2019, Glen Assoun became a free man after spending 20 years in prison, wrongfully convicted of the murder of his girlfriend.

The case against Assoun ignored the lack of physical evidence linking him with the murder and his alibi, which placed him far away from the crime scene and which was backed up by three people.

Working against him was the testimony of three people claiming to be witnesses: one, who was prone to “psychic premonitions,” another who was a jailhouse informant receiving leniency in exchange for testimony, and a final witness who was winning reduced charges in exchange for testifying.

When Assoun was finally granted a new trial, 20 years after his conviction, the Crown called no evidence and he was quickly acquitted.

Assoun’s story, along with 82 others, is now displayed at wrongfulconvictions.ca, a new Canadian registry of wrongful convictions. The website launched this week to shine a spotlight on people who have suffered miscarriages of justice and to ask an unknowable question: how many more are out there?

“We think this is the tip of the iceberg,” said Kent Roach, one of the registry’s creators and a professor of law at the University of Toronto.

Jessie Stirling, an Indigenous rights lawyer who has volunteered with the registry since 2018, said she’s hoping the website will allow people to identify other cases of wrongful conviction.

“We’re hoping that as a side effect of raising public awareness, we’re also going to be able to bring other stories to light that haven’t yet been [examined],” said Stirling.

Stirling said even the modest amount of cases included in the registry has already shown them worrying trends in the justice system.

“With the system getting it wrong and really harming people, particularly women and racialized people, we noticed great over-representation in those groups in the 83 cases that are available on the website,” said Stirling.

The data on the website is publicly available and breaks down the causes of wrongful convictions, such as perjury, false confessions, and misleading forensic evidence.

The government is also trying to make it easier for people who have been wrongfully convicted to plead their case.

Last week, Justice Minister David Lametti introduced a bill that would create an independent commission to review wrongful convictions and decide which cases should be sent back to the justice system. At a press conference on Thursday, Lametti was joined by Susan Milgaard, whose brother David Milgaard was wrongfully convicted of rape and murder in 1969, before being released in 1992 and exonerated in 1997.

Even in cases like Assoun’s and Milgaard’s, where glaring flaws in the case are spotted almost immediately, it can still take years for a resolution.

“Some of these files go back decades. We need a system that moves more quickly, both for people applying as well as for victims. And the process needs to be independent,” said Lametti, at Thursday’s press conference.

The bill was introduced last week and still has to be steered through the House of Commons and the Senate before the commission can be brought to life, but Roach said even that’s no guarantee of success. Resources will matter too, he said.

“I think there’s going to be more of a debate about wrongful convictions now because of the bill,” said Roach. “There’s a lot of work for the commission to do, but it needs proper funding, and it needs proper resources.”

The registry allows the researchers to look for patterns in the type of crimes

For example, about one-third of the wrongful convictions on the registry are “imagined crimes,” where someone was put in jail even though no actual crime was committed.

Tammy Marquardt spent 13 years in jail after being convicted of murdering her son, who was later found to have asphyxiated from getting tangled in his bedsheets. Marquardt was one of the 13 people sent to jail based on the work of Charles Smith, a disgraced pathologist who had conducted faulty autopsies and was later stripped of his license.

The registry also shows that 18 percent of the cases were guilty pleas, where a defendant apparently had no faith that the system would reveal their innocence.

Joel Voss, who has volunteered with the registry since 2020, said he suspects there are many more wrongful guilty pleas waiting to be discovered.

“A small percentage of all criminal cases go to trial and… the vast majority of convictions result in guilty pleas,” said Voss.

“So given that so many cases in the justice system in Canada have resulted in a guilty plea—and we do indeed know from our registry that there are significant amounts of cases that are wrongful convictions based off guilty pleas—we would have to think that the total volume of cases is much, much, much larger than what we have right now,” said Voss.