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NATO Summit 2008 | Peter MacKay recalls Ukraine’s rejection of membership



(OTTAWA) Recent images of Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskyy walking through the corpse-filled streets of Boutcha have brought back painful memories for former Canadian Defense Minister Peter MacKay.

President Zelensky’s anger was such that he denounced the former leaders of Germany and France — Angela Merkel and Nicolas Sarkozy — who had blocked his country’s entry into the NATO alliance during their 2008 peak.

Membership in NATO could have protected his country against Russian attacks under the collective defense guarantee of Article 5 of this alliance of countries in Europe and North America.

In a video shared around the world, Mr. Zelenskyy invited “Mme Merkel and Mr. Sarkozy to visit Boutcha to see what the policy of concessions to Russia has led to in 14 years […] see with their own eyes the tortured Ukrainian men and women”.


Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky visited Butcha on April 3.

His words reminded Mr. MacKay of the fateful summit in Bucharest, Romania, where Canada and some of its allies were discussing a plan for Ukraine to join NATO.

Stephen Harper’s Conservative government, with Peter MacKay as Minister of Defence, fully supported this expansion.

“I remember President Sarkozy of France was in a corner with German Chancellor Angela Merkel and they were having a pretty heated discussion,” MacKay said in an interview this week.

When the meeting resumed, Mr. MacKay recalled that Mr. Sarkozy and Merkel objected to Ukraine having access to a plan that would have allowed it to become a member of NATO.

“And it was over […] It just melted like spring snow,” he claimed.

France and Germany denied that alliance consensus was needed to move forward.

Reflections by former Defense Minister Peter MacKay provide insight into Canada’s role in the chain of geopolitical events that culminated in Russia’s war on Ukraine and global condemnation of the Russian President’s assault Vladimir Poutine.

Ukraine had abandoned plans to join NATO two years later under former President Viktor Yanukovych, but it became a foreign policy priority again in 2017 under then-President Petro Poroshenko.

Canada could find itself on the right side of history, given what followed the Bucharest summit, the annexation of the Crimean peninsula by Russia in 2014, the eight-year war in the region of East Donbass with Russia and the alleged war crimes stemming from the February 24 invasion.

I think it was a decision that had very negative consequences that we are seeing unfolding right now in Ukraine.

Peter MacKay, former Canadian Defense Minister, in reference to the summit

As news of Boutcha emerged, Mr MacKay dug through an old box of documents and retrieved a blue briefing book with gold lettering from the 2008 summit. He said it was “ disturbing” to remember.

The summit focused on NATO’s mission in Afghanistan, where Canada and its allies were grappling with a new wave of violence caused by a revolt by the Taliban and al-Qaeda.

NATO’s expansion further east in Europe — which Putin had fiercely opposed — was also discussed

“There were concerns, particularly for Ukraine, with respect to allegations of governance and corruption in government and there was the constant reference to Russia being a very nefarious influence,” Mr. MacKay remembering a heated discussion.

Canada, however, had been unequivocal. As the meeting was underway on April 2, 2008, Prime Minister Stephen Harper issued a statement in which he affirmed Canada’s support for Ukraine and Georgia’s candidacy for the process that would eventually lead to separate membership. entirely in NATO.

Shuvaloy Majumdar, a former director of the team of former Harper government foreign minister John Baird, said Canada, several European countries and the then US administration of George W. Bush were among of those who called for the expansion of NATO.

“Canada was one of the early leaders at that time […] It was German opposition that hurt Ukraine’s membership,” said Mujumdar, who now works for Harper’s consulting firm and heads the group’s foreign policy program. reflection of the Macdonald-Laurier Institute.

“Germany and other countries [étaient] more focused on reconciliation, on energy… and living in a fantasy world when it comes to energy transition issues, whether nuclear or other renewable sources,” he said. .

Peter MacKay, however, believes the West can redeem itself with Ukraine, especially since Russian forces have partially withdrawn from the country.

NATO argues that imposing a no-fly zone, as demanded by Ukraine, would trigger a full-scale war with Russia. The alliance should, however, opt for a “variation” of this by equipping Ukraine with massive amounts of air defense weapons, including fighter jets, according to Mr MacKay.

The latter also believes that the Russian forces are regrouping to carry out another attack, even if his soldiers are wounded and demoralized.

It goes without saying that Vladimir Putin wants to recreate the Soviet Union, a vision he has had in the back of his mind for a very long time.

Peter MacKay, former Canadian Minister of Defense

“He tested the limits of NATO and saw that Ukraine was the most vulnerable and desirable due to its location. »

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