He hopes they will let him drive one of the tanks. Rivers going to Ukraine and will tour Canadian army training camp while there.

Rivers 100x100By Ray River

May 12, 2017



Not since the ’80’s, not since before the cold war ended, has the world seemed so very much on edge, particularly in the birthplace of the last two world wars. As we know, European nations are having to rearm themselves, thanks to the new threat posed by Russia’s near dictator, Mr. Putin. He has an ambition – to restore the Soviet Union and reinstate Russia’s place as a major world power.

Take Ukraine, which Vlad the conquerer tried to do a couple of years ago, though it appears he may be content to settle for those bits and pieces of the former Soviet republic where his army is now firmly entrenched. That is the lesson of self-defence – why even in peacetime good fences make for better neighbours.

Ukraine president Poroshenko + Putin

They are not talking to each other: Russian president Vladimir Putin and the President of Ukraine Petro Poroshenko.

Putin has said that Ukraine shares the blame for allowing this rape to take place – as if rape could ever be justified. The rise of the oligarchs concurrent with the deterioration of the old communist social system; the corruption that infiltrated almost all walks of life; the systematic dismantling of one of the most powerful military forces in Europe; and a former president colluding with Putin, the former KGB agent, to facilitate the country’s takeover – all contributed.

My wife and I are volunteering to spend three weeks this year teaching young Ukrainians to speak English and to understand and develop an appreciation of western customs and traditions. to “the president of Ukraine” GoCamps is a non-governmental organization, supported by the Ukrainian government, with the goal of creating awareness of western society and thus offering Ukrainians a better future beyond the old eastern bloc. This year they are hoping for 1000 volunteers to expose 300,000 children to our way of life.

Most Ukrainians look at neighbouring Poland which has amplified its economy nearly twelve-fold since joining the EU, while Ukraine has barely grown by a factor of two or three. But Ukraine took too long deciding to apply for EU membership, and although it has been the recipient of numerous European development programs, its eventual application to join ticked off Vlad and brought insurrection and war to the 20 something year-old nation.

Члены Ассоциации защиты прав вкладчиков провели пикетирование Национального банка Украины с требованием возвращения депозитов. По словам собравшихся, они приурочили пикет ко дню рождения Главы Национального банка Сергея Арбузова. Экспертно-аналитический совет по вопросам участия государства в капитализации банков при Кабинете Министров решил начать выплаты вкладчикам Родовид Банка через Государственный Ощадный банк в апреле. Об этом говорится в сообщении Национального банка со ссылкой на заместителя главы НБУ Игоря Соркина. 17 марта состоялось заседание экспертно-аналитического совета по вопросам участия государства в капитализации банков, на котором было принято решение об осуществлении выплат средств вкладчикам Родовид Банка через один из государственных банков - Ощадбанк. НБУ обратился к банкам с требованием оказать Ощадбанку соответствующую поддержку во время выплаты средств вкладчикам Родовид Банка через их банкоматы и сеть. Кроме того, было принято решение, что выплаты средств начнутся в апреле текущего года после согласования Нацбанком и правительством

The Ukrainian economy has not grown the way the Polish economy has.

But the EU is not the only entity assisting this country in removing the shackles of Russian domination. The British, Americans and we Canadians are providing both economic as well as military assistance – most significantly by training Ukrainian soldiers in a program called Operation UNIFIER. After all, Ukraine is no stranger to NATO, having been an active partner, though not a member, including supplying troops for NATO initiatives in Afghanistan and the former Yugoslav states.

A Canadian soldier explains the conduct of a patrolling raid to a Ukrainian platoon during small team training at the International Peacekeeping and Security Centre in Starychi, Ukraine, on September 1, 2016. Photo : JTF-U AK51-2016-069-03 ~ Photo : JTF-U AK51-2016-069-03

A Canadian soldier explains the conduct of a patrolling raid to a Ukrainian platoon during small team training at the International Peacekeeping and Security Centre in Starychi, Ukraine.

I have been invited to visit a former Soviet army base where some 200 Canadian military trainers will be in action with Ukrainian recruits, over 3000 of whom have already graduated. Of course Canada is not fighting Putin’s forces so the training is taking place well away from the conflict zone in south-eastern Ukraine, and out of harm’s way. But just to be safe, I’m told, I’ll have to don a helmet and body armour for my tour.

It is just not feasible for Ukrainian forces to take on the well-trained and supplied Russian military – at least not yet. So since the beginning of the Russian invasions the primary response by western nations supporting Ukraine has been to apply limited economic sanctions on Putin’s Russia. Those sanctions, coupled with the drop in oil revenues, (which next to weapons make up the bulk of Russia’s export earnings) have hurt Putin’s economy and restrained his plans to expand his military even more.

So America’s new president, the enigmatic and unpredictable Donald Trump is a concern. Nobody seems to understand what the US president’s aspirations are, if he has any at all, besides exercising power, further enriching himself and going for the glory of it all. But he had spoken warmly of Putin during his election campaign last year, and questioned the lifting of US sanctions. And he and those around him are known to have had significant financial dealing with the Putin crowd.

His recent firing of the FBI Director, who more than any other individual contributed to his becoming president, ironically, has unnerved virtually the entire political class in America. Despite his official rationale for booting James Comey out of his job, everyone understands it has to do with the FBI investigation into Trump and friends, and Russia.

Although the US is not at war with Russia, the two nations are at odds over the conflicts in Syria and Ukraine – and possibly Russian arms supplies to the Taliban. And then there is the hacking of democratic institutions in the USA during last year’s federal election which has been traced back to Moscow. So as Trump welcomed Russia’s foreign minister to Washington this week with open arms, one can’t help but wonder where this is going to go.

Ukraine - aircraft shot down

Malaysian airlines MH17 believed to have been shot down by Russian operatives in rebel held eastern Ukraine.

Travelling to Ukraine will take me on a touch-down to Holland . Dutch citizens were the largest contingent of passengers killed when Russian operatives in rebel held eastern Ukraine shot down Malaysian airlines MH17 a couple of years ago. Perversely, this tiny but important European nation voted against accepting Ukraine into the EU in a referendum last year – as if they were taking out their anger over losing their loved ones on the victims of the broader conflict, rather than the actual culprits. Sometimes that is how it goes in rape cases – we blame the victims.

I visited Ukraine last year for the first time, while doing research for a book I’m writing. And this year its future is only marginally more promising. Except that the economy is stronger and so are the nation’s defences, thanks in part to Canada. And for the Ukrainians, despite support from western nations, they understand that in the end it is they alone who must secure their future and their own security. So I look forward to observing our trainers at work as they help the local soldiers get into shape for even more conflict. And maybe they’ll even let me drive a tank.


Rivers will be taking his guitar with him and teaching some of the students how to play it – and then leaving the guitar behind as a gift

Ray Rivers writes weekly on both federal and provincial politics, applying his more than 25 years as a federal bureaucrat to his thinking.  Rivers was a candidate for provincial office in Burlington in 1995.  He was the founder of the Burlington citizen committee on sustainability at a time when climate warming was a hotly debated subject.     Tweet @rayzrivers

Background links:

Ukraine vs Poland –   Canada Trains Ukrainians –     Trump and Russia

MH17 –      GoCamps

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2 comments to He hopes they will let him drive one of the tanks. Rivers going to Ukraine and will tour Canadian army training camp while there.

  • Bill Boyd

    Gee, Ray, if your donning a helmet and other protective gear is a must-do, then why not issue you a weapon? I mean, really, if there’s an outside chance that the “Russkis” will attack, surely you do not want to be among the collaterally damaged, eh?

    I wish you and your spouse success in what sounds like an immensely humane goodwill project.


  • Another marvelous think piece. There are so many key issues introduced here that a comment on one must surely pull in comments on the others, making a reply unfairly long. But I will say that in my years of teaching college I had several Ukrainian students and was never disappointed by their stellar grasp international issues and, above all, ethics.

    I find myself wishing I could accompany you, as much for the wisdom I would gain from you as from the experience of interacting with these strong and resolute people. But I am looking forward to the publication of your book. Just don’t crash the tank and damage your typing fingers.