Editorial Cartoon by Graeme MacKay, The Hamilton Spectator – Wednesday February 23, 2022
Was funding for Canada’s vaccine protests linked to Putin’s plans for Ukraine?
Joe Biden’s administration had two different and seemingly disparate international crises on its hands Friday when Jake Sullivan, the president’s national security adviser, strode to the podium in the White House briefing room.
Sullivan’s message was chilling: If Russian President Vladimir Putin plans to invade Ukraine, he said, it could happen before the end of the Winter Olympic Games in Beijing, which are scheduled to wrap up this coming Sunday.
At the same time, the White House had grown worried enough about the COVID-19 protests blocking vital commercial trade corridors at the Canada-U.S. border that it urged Prime Minister Justin Trudeau to take a harder line.
Experts in both countries are wondering if the two situations have more in common than an initial glance might suggest.
Bessma Momani, a political-science professor at the University of Waterloo and a senior fellow at the Centre for International Governance Innovation, said she sees earmarks of Russia’s foreign interference techniques in the social-media maelstrom surrounding the protests in Canada.
“The Russian strategy has always been about divide, right? Sow dissent from within,” Momani said in an interview Monday.
The goal, she said, is to feed and foster the narrative — already well on its way in the U.S., but less so in Canada — that western-style democracies are prone to instability, insecurity and social upheaval.
“They picked up on this idea of culture wars and identity politics being yet another demonstration that democracy doesn’t work. And so it really is part of their strategy.”
Online news startup Grid reported last week that a single, stolen account was responsible for administering four of the most prominent Facebook groups at the centre of organizing and promoting the protests, which have entered their third week.
And NBC News has reported that the protests, originally branded as a “trucker convoy” comprising drivers angry at being forced to get vaccinated against COVID-19, were being promoted by fake accounts connected to so-called “content mills” in Bangladesh, Romania, Vietnam and elsewhere.
Momani said she suspects Canada’s global reputation as a stable liberal democracy in proximity to the U.S. has made it a tempting target for Russian hackers. She added the ensuing pandemonium has also provided Putin with a welcome distraction as he continues to amass troops, equipment and weapons near the Ukrainian border.
“If they were not patient zero behind this, they certainly helped add oxygen because the timing was appropriate for them,” she said.
“It’s going to be hard to pinpoint it, to completely say it’s all Russian intervention, but I have absolutely no doubt that they have their hand in this in some way.”
John Weaver, a professor of intelligence analysis at the York College of Pennsylvania, said it’s difficult to determine with any precision if Russia has been involved in sparking the social unrest on display in Canada.
But the fact that Canada is a prominent U.S. ally and trading partner, a G7 nation, a NATO member and part of the Five Eyes intelligence-sharing network would make it a perfectly viable target, Weaver said.
“I believe it’s highly probable that they have some skin in this fight, but the degree to which that they do, I just don’t know,” he said. (National Observer)
Meanwhile, Vladimir Putin has ordered his military to enter the Russian-controlled areas of southeast Ukraine following a decision to recognize the territories as independent states.
The decision to dispatch his troops to perform “peacekeeping duties” will be viewed in Ukraine and by other western allies as an occupation of the region and likely trigger tough sanctions and a Ukrainian military response. (The Guardian)