Defence Attaché speaks on Russia-Ukraine conflict

Col. Foster asks, ‘is it war or is it terrorism?’

Col. Foster spoke at a virtual event on Sept. 14.
Supplied by CIDP

Canadian Defence Attaché to Ukraine Colonel Robert Foster presented his views on Russia’s war in Ukraine on Wednesday as the conflict reaches its 7-month mark.

Col. Foster spoke at an event held virtually by the Queen’s Centre for International and Defence Policy (CIDP) as a part of their speaker series featuring researchers and professionals.

Through a discussion of the history of Canadian aid to Ukraine from the 2014 Russian invasion to the present day, Col. Foster conveyed a central theme of Ukrainian resilience which, he believes, drove the Russian attack on Kyiv to fail in February. 

“Wars are won by people with high morale,” he said at the event, in reference to the attitude of General Zaluzhnyi, the Commander-in-Chief of the Armed Forces of Ukraine (AFU).

According to Col. Foster, high morale is a key player in the counteroffensive operation which saw Ukraine regaining occupied territory along the country’s northeast in recent weeks.

This latest string of Ukrainian victories—liberating towns such as Izyum and Kupiansk from Russian control—was made possible with the support of Western nations including Canada according to Col. Foster.

Since the start of the invasion in February, Canada has given Ukraine monetary contributions supporting weapons, protective equipment, and humanitarian aid.

A key area in which Canada has historically supported the eastern European country is in the training of Ukrainian personnel through Operation Unifier, launched in response to the 2014 Russian invasion.

Training occurs in collaboration with allies such as the United States, United Kingdom, Latvia, and Sweden, and aims to standardize the AFU’s system of military instruction.

In Col. Foster’s opinion, however, the most notable Canadian contribution is a surveillance camera system supplied by Ontario-based company Wescam.

The drone cameras have been instrumental in Ukraine’s efforts to strike key targets such as Russian flagship Moskva, sunk in April of this year.

Documented by the lens of a Wescam camera, the last sighting of Moska was broadcast on various social media channels—a hallmark of what Col. Foster identified as “social media warfare”.

“If you can get it on social media, and it looks professional and credible, it will influence people and perceptions,” he explained.

Both Russia and Ukraine have taken advantage of this novel style of combat in attempt to rally both national and global support. Unlike Ukraine’s approach, which Col. Foster called “organized and professional,” Russia’s use of social media has focused on issuing statements which are “contrary to what we know to be true.”

One such statement, which Russia has used to justify the invasion, paints Ukraine as a far-right extremist nation, which Russia is hoping to “de-Nazify” through what the Kremlin calls a “special military operation.”

Col. Foster quickly disproved this claim by drawing attention to Ukraine’s latest election, in which far-right extremist groups received less than one percent of the popular vote and culminated in the election of President Zelensky—a Jewish president.

Social media has not only served as a vessel for Russia’s poor efforts to justify the war, but has also shed light on Russian war crimes in Ukraine, leading Col. Foster to ask the audience, “is it war, or is it terrorism?”

Despite Ukraine’s recent territorial gains, Col. Foster warned the war is “far from over” and stressed the importance of continued global support for the nation.

“[Restoring Ukraine’s territorial borders] will take significant action, but the blood spilled, the harm to the territory, and the atrocities committed have galvanized Ukrainian resolve that they will not negotiate for peace.”

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