Canada faced pressure on Tuesday to match US and United Kingdom shipments of defensive weapons to Ukraine as the threat of a Russian invasion of Eastern Europe remains.
The Liberal government has heard demands for arms shipments both at home and in Kiev, where Foreign Minister Melanie Jolie completed a second day of meetings on Tuesday with senior Ukrainian officials, including her counterpart Dimitro Kuleba.
At the same time, Canadian military officers and diplomats are grappling with the challenges they would face if they had to quickly evacuate military trainers and civilians.
Unlike other Allied nations, Canadian military instructors are spread across 13 different locations in the western and central parts of Ukraine. It can be difficult to collect them all for faster evacuation.
But the question of how far the Trudeau government is willing to go to supply Ukraine with defensive weapons systems dominated Jolie’s remarks on Tuesday.
“We have heard loud and clear the demands on behalf of the Ukrainian government. Many officials here have reiterated these demands,” Jolie said during a joint media availability with Kuleba.
She may have heard the arguments, but Ottawa is still studying the request – as it has for months. Britain announced on Monday that it has sent anti-tank weapons along with a handful of soldiers to show the people of Ukraine how to use them.
Last October, the Pentagon provided high-tech, tank-destroying Javelin missiles with its military aid shipment to Ukraine.
“We know it’s important to play our part in this context and that’s why we’re looking at options and we’ll make a timely decision,” Jolie said.
Feds face domestic pressure to divest Ukraine
The Ukrainian Canadian Congress (UCC) is actively lobbying the Liberal government to support Ukraine and has held meetings with three federal ministers over the past few months.
“We are talking to all parties, all officials who will meet us,” said UCC executive director Ihor Michalchishin.
Last month, the UCC presented Jolie with a hefty list of defensive weapons it thought Canada could provide. It also called on the government to impose additional sanctions against a Russian private security contractor who was selected for penalties by the US and European countries.
Michalchyshyn said he believed the federal government listened to his arguments and appreciated the seriousness of the situation – but showed no sign of action in terms of defensive weapons.
‘do it now’
“Our main point is to do it now,” said Michalchishin. “If Ukraine gets aid now, Russia will be stopped, not after the attack. If Russia has already invaded, it will be too late to send Ukraine satellite systems and missiles.”
At the same time, peace advocates have intensified their arguments for the Canadian government to deny the request for additional weapons.
In a statement, a coalition of groups including the Canadian Foreign Policy Institute said it was concerned about “Canada’s role in fueling the dangerous, escalating conflict in Ukraine”. It called on liberals to end arms sales to Ukraine and to halt the military training project.
Military and civilian officials are now considering what should happen to Canada’s military training mission and how to get those troops – as well as Canadian citizens living and working in Ukraine – out of harm’s way.
planning for the worst
As part of her visit to Ukraine, Jolie met with trainers who have been instructing Ukrainian Army soldiers and reservists in combat and first aid skills on the battlefield.
Lt. Col. Canada’s training mission commander Luke-Frederick Gilbert acknowledged in an interview with CBC News that a contingency plan has been drawn up for the evacuation. He declined to discuss details, citing operational safety.
“We are not a combat mission,” he said. “Being an unarmed mission, we have different activities here than other missions around the world. So the answer is, yes, we have plans…”
Retired Vice Admiral Bob Davidson, Canada’s former military representative to NATO, said getting people out of the fire can be challenging but with adequate planning and advance notice, the problems cannot go away.
He acknowledged that the federal government has struggled with mass evacuations in the past, but the situation in Ukraine would not be surprising.
Canada’s most recent example of an evacuation was its chaotic departure from Afghanistan last summer – an operation in which dozens of Canadians and those working for the Canadian military were trapped under Taliban rule.
Davidson said Moscow would want to make sure non-combatants get out of the way if shooting resumes.
“It would not be in Russia’s best interest to stop forces like the Canadian military from getting out of the way because the last thing they really want is to engage in any sort of conflict with NATO forces,” he said.
Nevertheless, there have been reports that additional Canadian Special Forces troops were sent to Ukraine to help with the evacuation plan.
The Army has a Special Forces contingent in the country as part of training missions since the fall of 2020. A source told Global News that now a separate team has been sent.