Canada has not ruled out equipping Ukraine with lethal weapons, but it is also not the country’s focus in helping Ukraine as it stares down the threat of a full-scale Russian invasion, Canadian National Defense Minister Anita Anand told the Kyiv Post in a Jan. 28 interview prior to her Jan. 30 arrival in Ukraine.
“At the current time, I think it is important to look at the aid that Canada has announced to date for Ukraine: $340 million (about US$266 million) to support the extension and expansion of Operation UNIFIER, with potentially 400 soldiers authorized under the extension; $120 million (about US$94 million) loaned to Ukraine announced last week; $50 million (about US$39 million) announced this week for economic development. In addition, we should recognize that the greatest contribution that Canada can make at the current time is in the area of training and personnel,” she said.
The Canadian Armed Forces’ (CAF’s) Operation UNIFIER has trained nearly 33,000 Ukrainian military and security personnel since Canada joined the multinational military mission in 2015.
Canada will also provide Ukraine with non-lethal equipment, intelligence sharing and “support to combat cyber-attacks,” Prime Minister Justin Trudeau announced at a Jan. 26 news conference in Ottawa.
As for lethal weapons, Anand said that “all options do remain on the table” and that she would be discussing Canadian aid going forward when she meets with her Ukrainian counterpart, Oleksii Reznikov, and other government officials on Jan. 31.
said the Canadian defense minister.
While Operation Unifier has been extended for another three years until March 2025, the personnel portion of the mission has also been expanded from the 200 CAF members on the ground at 13 different sites in western Ukraine. Another 60 Canadian troops will soon join them, with a plan to bring the total number to 400 CAF personnel.
“We will make decisions based on the needs on the ground in Ukraine, as well as our capacity at home and in our other missions around the world,” said Anand.
As to whether the military training mission will move to points eastward in Ukraine, she said that Canada is “preparing to ensure that we are ready for a range of scenarios, including with our allies.
“The contingency planning continues to evolve according to the situation.”
In mid-January, Canadian broadcaster Global News reported that a small contingent from the Canadian Special Operations Regiment had been deployed around Jan. 9 to Ukraine to help to develop evacuation plans for Canadian diplomatic personnel in the event of a full-scale Russian invasion, according to sources.
On Jan. 25, Global Affairs Canada released a statement announcing that at the country’s embassy in Kyiv, children under the age of 18 and family members accompanying them had been “temporarily withdrawn.”
Five days later, Canada’s foreign affairs department announced that it was also temporarily withdrawing non-essential Canadian employees and remaining dependents from the Canadian embassy in Ukraine.
“As announced earlier this week, Canada will be reinforcing the team at the Canadian Embassy in Kyiv, Ukraine, with officials with expertise in areas such as security sector reform, conflict management, democratic reform, consular services and diplomacy. Together, they will increase our diplomatic capacity and allow us to continue to assess and respond to the evolving situation in support of Ukraine,” said the Jan. 30 Global Affairs statement.
Anand said that Canadian special forces have been in Ukraine “on a periodic basis” since 2020. “These forces regularly support Global Affairs and assist our embassies around the world. They monitor security and work with our allies and our partners.”
On the day Anand spoke to the Kyiv Post, U.S. Defense Secretary Lloyd J. Austin III said that the more than 100,000 Russian troops and military hardware assembled at Ukraine’s borders “far and away exceeds” typical training exercises and has the force to mount a full invasion of Ukraine.
Anand said she was unafraid to travel to the country against this backdrop and feels it “very important” for her as defense minister to “reiterate Canadian support for the sovereignty and security of Ukraine” and “thank Canadian soldiers who have been on the ground in Ukraine.”
“Of course, I am concerned about my security and the security of my team, and we will take the precautions necessary to ensure our own safety as we execute on our duties,” she added.
When asked whether the Canadian government has had any contact with Russian President Vladimir Putin’s administration and perhaps position Canada in a brokering role, Anand said that Canada has been “very engaged” with its NATO allies and that she has spoken with Austin as well as her counterparts in the United Kingdom, Germany, Spain, Portugal and Australia.
“That is the focus of my work at the current time,” she said, adding that Canadian Foreign Affairs Minister Mélanie Joly, who recently visited Ukraine, met with Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov on the margins of the Organization for Security and Co-operation in Europe meeting last December in Stockholm.
“We are making it very clear that Russia has a choice here to negotiate and de-escalate. Serious economic consequences will be imposed if de-escalation is not the result here,” said Anand.
“We will be coordinated with our allies with regard to economic sanctions, and since the invasion of Crimea in 2014, Canada has sanctioned [more than] 440 people and organizations.”
Canada’s Official Opposition Conservatives have long called for the reinstatement of the real-time supply to Ukraine of images from Canada’s Radarsat-2 satellite that they began in government in 2015 but which Trudeau’s Liberals terminated the following year.
“Radarsat is very good in maritime operations and when looking at large swaths of land,” said Anand. “It isn’t terribly useful at identifying objects on the ground, like tanks and missiles. The options on the commercial market are of much, much higher resolution, so we can look at ways to ensure that Ukraine has the information it needs.”
“But Radarsat is not really the most useful tool and this is an issue that I will raise in Ukraine.”
However, she reiterated that military training is “the greatest contribution that Canada can provide at the current time, including in the area of training in personnel, unit and brigade-level tactical training, combat engineer training, sniping reconnaissance, military policing, medical training – these are very important skills.”
said the Canadian defense minister.
“The situation is fluid and is concerning, and we very much hope that the situation will resolve through diplomacy and de-escalation will occur.”
“The rules-based international alliance that has been in place since the end of the Second World War is of preeminence, and Canada will continue to stand with Ukraine and its NATO allies to support this rules-based international order, to support Ukraine’s sovereignty and stability, and to support and uphold Ukraine’s territorial integrity.”
As Anand added: “Ukraine’s security is Europe’s security, and the world’s security.”
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