Ottawa – Canada has reaffirmed its support for Ukraine and the prospect of the latter becoming a member of NATO. That is the main outcome of talks held in Kyiv between Canadian Foreign Affairs Minister Mélanie Joly and Ukrainian Premier Denys Shmyhal. Russia remains obstinately opposed to Ukraine becoming a member and has around 100,000 troops amassed near Ukraine’s borders.

Joly told Radio Canada that talks also covered the prospect of Canada providing more aid for reforms and loans for greater economic stability. The Canadian minister also stressed the need for greater democratic reforms to official Kyiv. She confirmed that her government is discussing the issue of supplying defensive weapons in the event of a Russian invasion.

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The White House warned January 18 that the situation was “extremely dangerous” and that Moscow could launch an attack “at any point.”

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Despite Russia’s objections, Canada remains committed to Ukraine’s membership in the North Atlantic Treaty Organization, Joly told Canada’s French-language public broadcaster, Radio Canada. Speaking after her January 17 meeting with Ukrainian Prime Minister Denys Shmyhal in Kyiv, she said “Canada’s position has not changed… We believe that Ukraine should be able to join NATO.”

Russian President Vladimir Putin’s government steadfastly continues to oppose Ukraine and Georgia joining NATO. Putin has called on the Western alliance to roll back its military deployments in Eastern Europe to 1997 levels.

According to a Global Affairs Canada, Joly “condemned Russia’s military buildup in and around Ukraine,” which is estimated to run to more than 100,000 troops.

Minister urged democratic reform, including of the courts

Joly “emphasized the need for Russia to de-escalate and uphold its international commitments, and emphasized Canada’s commitment to dialog launched through NATO and the Organization for Security and Co-operation in Europe.” in the Ukrainian capital.  She also discussed progress on democratic reform and “the importance of Ukraine’s unity in the face of Russian aggression” with Shmyhal.

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Joly also told Radio Canada that “there must be democratic reforms taking place here, reforms of the judicial systems taking place here in Ukraine.”

Her comments came against the background of support provided by Canada which, with its large Ukrainian diaspora, continues to be a traditional ally. Indeed,  over the past eight years, Canada has provided about US$196 million in development assistance in such areas as constitutional, electoral, judicial, anti-corruption, decentralization, social policy and health reform.

Loans on the table for stability, mutual trade has prospects

Joly told Radio Canada that Canada is ready to lend money to Ukraine “because we know that the Russian threat creates a form of economic instability, and that has an impact on state revenue and the ability of the Ukrainian government to finance its approach.”

Deepening commercial links through increased bilateral trade were also discussed in the Ukrainian capital.

In 2018, a year after the Canada-Ukraine Free Trade Agreement came into force, Canadian merchandise exports to Ukraine totaled about US$176 million, with merchandise imports from Ukraine totaling about US101 million, according to the latest Canadian government data. Joly: defensive weapons from Canada discussed

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The White House warned January 18 that the situation was “extremely dangerous” and that Moscow could launch an attack “at any point.”

The Ukrainian Canadian Congress (UCC) recently sent Joly a briefing note on “deterring a further Russian invasion of Ukraine.”

It provided Canada’s foreign minister with a list of recommendations and called for a substantial increase in “the provision of defensive weapons to Ukraine – most importantly anti-tank, anti-artillery, naval and air defense systems.”

“The government of Canada can also provide surplus arms to Ukraine as soon as possible,” the UCC wrote, emphasizing urgency as “Any further Russian invasion of Ukraine is likely to include the use by Russia’s Armed Forces of both naval and air power; Ukraine’s defensive capabilities in both the sea and air need to be enhanced in order to deter Russian aggression in these domains.”

Canadian parliamentary opposition urges continued military training

The UCC called on the Canadian government to “extend and enhance” Operation UNIFIER, the country’s military training mission in Ukraine that is slated to end in March. Maintaining that presence would serve as “an important and welcome signal of Canada’s commitment to Ukraine’s security and sovereignty,” the UCC stated.

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This is supported by James Bezan, deputy whip of the Official Opposition Conservatives in the Canadian House of Commons. He told the Kyiv Post recently that Prime Minister Justin Trudeau’s government needs to not only announce the extension of UNIFIER “sooner than later – especially in light of the buildup of Russian military along Ukraine’s border – but to also send a strong message to Moscow that Canada will continue to stand with Ukraine and train its military to NATO standards.”

As part of Operation UNIFIER, about 200 members of the Canadian Armed Forces are deployed to Ukraine every six months to train candidates for the Security Forces of Ukraine.

The UCC also called on the Trudeau government to restore the provision of “real-time satellite imagery and intelligence to Ukraine on Russian military movements” that the Harper Conservatives introduced in 2015 but which the Liberals – following their electoral victory that year – ended in 2016.

Canada was the first Western country to recognize Ukraine’s independence in August 1991.

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