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Ukraine’s interests, not Putin’s reputation, should guide world's approach to ending war: Bob Rae

Bob Rae at the United Nations.

Canada's ambassador to the United Nations, Bob Rae, says Russian President Vladimir Putin's 'exit strategy' should simply be the removal of his troops from Ukraine.

Photo: Associated Press / John Minchillo


Canada and other countries should not be concerned about providing Russian President Vladimir Putin with an off-ramp to save face over the war in Ukraine, says Canada's ambassador to the United Nations.

In an interview on Rosemary Barton Live (new window) airing Sunday, Bob Rae said the international community should instead be focusing on supporting Ukraine and allowing it to lead the way in a possible resolution to the war, almost three months after Russia's invasion on Feb. 24.

This is not going to be settled by the world without Ukraine. Ukraine is the country that has to make the decisions about how it's going to go forward and how it's going to fight these battles. And it's not up to us to tell the Ukrainians what to do, Rae told CBC chief political correspondent Rosemary Barton.

Rae said it was wrong for commentators in the West to constantly look for a way for Putin to save face.

My view is President Putin needs to design his own exit strategy for his troops. He needs to get them out of Ukraine, he said.

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In recent weeks, Russia has shifted its strategy in Ukraine. While the initial invasion was broad and seemingly aimed at capturing the capital Kyiv and forcing Ukraine's surrender, its new approach is tightly focused on securing territory in the country's east and south, primarily in the areas around Crimea and separatist regions of Donetsk and Luhansk.

While Ukrainian troops have pushed Russian forces away from Kharkiv, Ukraine's second-largest city, Russian forces have made slow progress in the Donbas area.

Rae said it appeared that Russia's goal is to cut Ukraine off from access to the Black Sea, something that Ukraine could not possibly accept.

No other country has the right to take away their territory, and no other country has the right to deny the reality of their existence, he told Barton.

Other countries could eye NATO membership: Volker

Rae's assessment was largely shared by Kurt Volker, the former U.S. ambassador to NATO who also spoke with Barton in an interview airing Sunday.

I don't understand even the logic of suggesting that Putin needs to save face. This is unprovoked aggression against a neighbouring country. It needs to be stopped and reversed. And there is no saving face, he said.

Volker, who also served as the U.S. special representative for negotiations around Ukraine from 2017 to 2019, said it would be a completely inappropriate, unfair reward for aggression for a ceasefire to leave Russia in control of significant Ukrainian territory, but how far Ukraine pushes back is still a question.

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Is it all the way back to the lines before Feb 24? Is it to take all of Ukraine's territory back, including Crimea? Those are things that I think we'll have to judge along the way, and of course it will be the Ukrainians who decide.

U.S. President Joe Biden this week signed a $40-billion US aid package for Ukraine, which includes both military and humanitarian aid.

A separate diplomatic push was also underway this week as political leaders from Finland and Sweden went to Washington, D.C., to gather support for their bids to join NATO.

Volker said he thought it was likely that initial Turkish resistance to the bids would be resolved, resulting in a significant expansion of the North Atlantic Treaty Organization. And he said he expected countries that have been left in a grey zone for several decades would also revive attempts to join the alliance in the face of Russian aggression.

Those countries might include Georgia, Moldova and Ukraine, Volker said.

If the strongest and most capable neutral countries with strong militaries find that they think it is not safe to remain neutral, I think we need to go back and relook at the issue of NATO's membership for Ukraine as well.

You can watch full episodes of Rosemary Barton Live on CBC Gem, the CBC's streaming service (new window).

Christian Paas-Lang (new window) · CBC News