In Digest, Ukraine

By David Pugliese, Ottawa Citizen, April 14, 2015

Canada has significantly ratcheted up its military involvement in Ukraine, a move the government hopes will help stabilize the region but which some experts worry could spark a confrontation with Russia.

Prime Minister Stephen Harper announces Canadian soldiers to Ukraine, April 14, 2015. Beside him is Chief of Defence Staff Tom Lawson (Adrian Wyld, Canadian Press)

Prime Minister Stephen Harper announces Canadian soldiers to Ukraine, April 14, 2015. Beside him is Chief of Defence Staff Tom Lawson (Adrian Wyld, Canadian Press)

The Conservative government says putting 200 Canadian soldiers in Ukraine for the next two years to help train that country’s military is the best way to head off any future conflict with Russia, adding the troops are needed to help Ukraine defend its borders.

“The Canadian military contribution being announced today will help Ukrainian forces’ personnel to better defend their country’s sovereignty and territorial integrity,” Prime Minister Stephen Harper said Tuesday.

The bulk of the troops for the first rotation of the mission will come from Garrison Petawawa, said Chief of the Defence Staff Gen. Tom Lawson.

“Let there be no doubt that (Russian President Vladimir) Putin’s aggression in Ukraine is not an isolated concern,” Defence Minister Jason Kenney told reporters. “This is why we believe, with our allies, that a message of resolve and deterrence is the best way to prevent a miscalculation with Mr. Putin.” Advertisement

Ukrainians have been fighting each other for more than a year, with government troops battling rebels who want to separate. There are concerns that a ceasefire now in place may not hold.

Russia annexed Crimea from Ukraine and has provided support to the separatist forces. Canada and NATO have accused Russia of sending troops and equipment to take part in the war; Russia denies this.

Kenney said the risk to the unarmed Canadian soldiers will be low since they will be based 1,300 kilometres from the front lines. They will not be involved in combat, he added.

And if the situation in Ukraine worsens, the Canadians can travel to the safety of nearby Poland from where they could be evacuated, he noted.

But some foreign affairs experts say the decision to send Canadian, British and U.S. training troops to Ukraine could worsen matters with nuclear-armed Russia.

“Canada’s decision is not only provocative to Russia but it’s dangerous, “said retired Canadian diplomat James Bissett. “We are poking at them unnecessarily.”

Defence analyst Martin Shadwick said the Canadian government has to ensure it doesn’t push the Russians too far, as well as avoiding any accidental confrontation between military forces. He added that because of the location of the Canadians far from the front, the likelihood of direct confrontation is slim.

“But it’s a very delicate, fine balance one has to strike here,” said Shadwick, who teaches strategic studies at York University. “You still need a relationship with the Russians.”

Liberal Leader Justin Trudeau said his party supports the government’s training mission, given Canada’s longstanding support for Ukraine. Providing training assistance so Ukraine can defend its territory is “a responsible thing for Canada to do as part of an international effort,” he said.

Trudeau said the Conservative government lacked transparency and accountability on the Iraq mission, including over the fact Canadian troops were on the front lines. But the Liberal leader said he’s reassured the government “was so absolutely unequivocal” that the training in Ukraine will take place far from the front.

“I wouldn’t want to see situations in which Canadians and Russians could be directly in conflict,” Trudeau said. “I don’t think anyone would want to see that.”

Speaking to reporters at an event in Quebec, NDP Leader Tom Mulcair said deploying Canadian troops to Ukraine without a debate in the House of Commons “is a dangerous precedent.”

Mulcair noted the training mission is not a NATO mission – and said he is concerned about the safety of Canadian soldiers.

Ukraine can certainly use training in an effort to help stabilize the region, said NDP defence critic Jack Harris, but the NDP is worried about the potential that the conflict could escalate.

“We don’t want to be in a situation of provoking aggressive reaction and we want to be sure that, in the long term, it’s going to be a positive step,” Harris said. “It’s a lengthy period of commitment in a dangerous region.”

Kenney confirmed Tuesday that imagery from a Canadian surveillance satellite has been provided to Ukraine’s military to allow it to detect “foreign” soldiers on its soil. Ukraine has promised Canada it will not use such data to target foreign forces, a reference to the Russian troops NATO says are operating in separatist-held areas of Ukraine.

Kenney said the Conservative government is also concerned about Russian “aggression” in the Arctic. Russia has conducted flights in international airspace in the region and conducted a massive Arctic military exercise on its own territory.

Russia has also hardened its line against the West, upset that NATO forces are now stationed on its borders. At the height of the Ukraine crisis in August, Putin pointedly reminded the West that Russia still possessed nuclear weapons. “This is a reality, not just words,” he told a Russian audience.

Putin also acknowledged in a recent television documentary that he was prepared to put Russian nuclear forces on alert as his troops seized Crimea from Ukraine last year.

Bissett said the Canadian government is unrealistic in its assessment of Russia’s future plans and the extent of its still-powerful military. “If the Russians wanted to, they could invade and take control of Ukraine in three days,” said Bissett, Canada’s former ambassador to Yugoslavia, Bulgaria and Albania, who also lived in Russia for five years. “But they have no intention in doing that.”

The Canadian training will take place primarily at a NATO centre in Yavoriv, in western Ukraine close to the Polish border. As well, some of the training will occur at the Ukrainian Ministry of Defence Demining Centre in Kamyanets-Podilsky, in western Ukraine.

The government said the Canadian Forces members will be deployed “on both a sustained and periodic basis” – depending on the type of training being conducted.

Their activities will include: explosive ordnance disposal and improvised explosive device disposal training; military police training; medical training; flight safety training; and logistics system modernization training.

Canadian troops will also work alongside American personnel to provide “individual and unit tactics training” to the Ukrainian National Guard.

The first year of the mission is estimated to cost $13 million but about $3 million will be available as a contingency fund.

Canada has provided more than $570 million in aid to Ukraine, including loans and non-lethal military equipment, Kenney added. He said the government’s position is that it will not send lethal military equipment to Ukraine but that all options remain on the table.

Canada has been one of the most vocal nations condemning Russia’s action in Ukraine and the Crimea.

There are more than 1.2 million Canadians of Ukrainian descent. Canadians identifying themselves as being of Ukrainian ancestry represent a significant voting bloc in dozens of federal ridings. A number of ridings with large Ukrainian-Canadian populations in Toronto, Winnipeg and parts of Saskatchewan were hotly contested in the 2011 federal election, and are expected to be close races once again in the 2015 campaign this fall.

Marko Shevchenko, chargé d’affaires at the Embassy of Ukraine in Canada, said his government is deeply grateful to Canada for the training assistance, explaining it will improve Ukraine’s capacity to resist Russian aggression.

Despite earlier pleas from the Ukrainian ambassador for lethal military support, Shevchenko said Ukraine is only seeking non-lethal assistance and is not looking for Canadian troops on the ground in a combat role.

“We perfectly understand that Western countries are not ready to provide us lethal assistance. We perfectly understand that it’s our war, that it’s the war for our independence, not the war of Western countries,” Shevchenko told reporters in Ottawa.

He said the ceasefire between Ukraine and pro-Russian separatists is not working as well as the Ukrainian government would like.

– With files from Mark Kennedy, Ottawa Citizen.

By the numbers:

150: Number of Canadian troops at main training centre in western Ukraine
25-30: Canadian soldiers involved in counter explosive training in southwest Ukraine
5: Canadians assisting in medical training
15: Canadian military police trainers
5-10: Flight safety personnel for training
5: Canadian personnel involved in logistical training

David Pugliese writes for the National Post and the Ottawa Citizen. He publishes the Citizen blog called ‘Defense Watch’.

Read also:
Canada sending 200 trainers for Ukraine military , CBC News, April 14, 2015
     … In Rimouski, Que. Tuesday, NDP Leader Tom Mulcair said his party was concerned with the Harper government’s “unilateral decision.”
“This is not something that’s even been discussed for one hour in the House of Commons,” Mulcair said.
“If NATO were to act… that would be one thing, but here this is Canada acting alone,” he said, contrasting what’s happening now with earlier missions to Mali and Libya, when MPs were consulted.
“Stephen Harper won’t talk to Parliament… Canadians have every right to be consulted about this,” he said…

And, the following comment by New Cold was posted to the Ottawa Citizen news report, April 14, 2015:

What is the nature of the government and of the military forces which are being supported by this decision by Canada? An important question for Canadians to ask. The government is the product of a violent overthrow of an elected president one year ago. It is allied with extreme, right-wing political and paramilitary forces. Together, their armed forces have been conducting war crimes in eastern Ukraine–indiscriminate shellings of civilian populations; use of cluster weapons and land mines; blocking of humanitarian aid; widespread use of torture. These are all documented by Human Rights Watch, Amnesty International and Russian civil organizations. Democracy in Ukraine is imperiled. All this in the name of refusing the people of eastern Ukraine a right to a voice in their future. The people of Crimea saw all of this coming and opted to get out of the line of fire 13 months ago.


EDITOR’S NOTE: We remind our readers that publication of articles on our site does not mean that we agree with what is written. Our policy is to publish anything which we consider of interest, so as to assist our readers in forming their opinions. Sometimes we even publish articles with which we totally disagree, since we believe it is important for our readers to be informed on as wide a spectrum of views as possible.

Recent Posts
Contact Us

We're not around right now. But you can send us an email and we'll get back to you, asap.

Start typing and press Enter to search

Translate »