Canada is considering increasing military aid to Ukraine, while Russia is gathering troops at the border

Russian military vehicles are preparing to be loaded into a plane for airborne exercises during maneuvers in Crimea on April 22.Associated Press

Canada is considering strengthening its military mission to Ukraine, amid a debate over whether further NATO forces would deter Russian President Vladimir Putin from further aggression against his country’s neighbor.

Two sources with knowledge of the considerations told The Globe and Mail that newly appointed Defense Minister Anita Anand is considering deploying hundreds of additional troops to support the Canadian soldiers already in Ukraine on a training mission. Other options being considered include moving a warship into the Black Sea or relocating some of the CF-18 fighter jets currently based in Romania.

Any reinforcement would be thought of as a message to Mr Putin, who has sounded the alarm for the second time this year by gathering troops and equipment near his country’s borders with Ukraine. Videos posted online show thousands of battlefield weapons – including tanks, armored personnel carriers and rocket systems for multiple launches – moving towards Ukraine from their regular bases in other parts of Russia.

According to some estimates, there are now only 100,000 Russian soldiers within a short drive of Ukraine – a country that Mr Putin has never seen as a completely sovereign state, and a country that he is determined to avoid joining. US-led North Atlantic Treaty. Organization.

How to respond to Russia’s renewed pressure on Ukraine threatens as Ms Anand’s first major international test since she was appointed defense minister last month, replacing Harjit Sajjan. She and Prime Minister Justin Trudeau must calibrate whether a further Canadian demonstration of support for Ukraine will help deter Mr Putin – or push him to act.

The Russian leader, who for more than a decade has warned against any move to invite Ukraine into NATO, has recently stepped up by declaring that any expansion of existing NATO infrastructure in Ukraine would also cross a “red line” and provoke an unspecified response from Russia.

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Canada currently has about 200 troops based in the far western part of the country – more than 1,000 kilometers from the Russian border – on a mission to train their Ukrainian counterparts. The two sources, whom The Globe does not name because they were not authorized to publicly discuss the talks, said no decision had yet been made to deploy additional forces, despite requests from the Ukrainian delegation at the recent Halifax Security Forum for Canada and NATO to do more.

“It is still the status quo right now. There has been no change in our position,” Lieutenant Commander Julie McDonald, a spokeswoman for the Canadian military, said on Wednesday, “We are closely monitoring the situation with our allied partners.”

While Ukraine is concerned about the possibility of a large-scale invasion, others see the Russian construction as a bargaining chip – a trick supported by Mr Putin’s proven willingness to use military force to achieve his goals.

Russian and Western defense experts agree that Mr Putin at least seems to be giving himself the opportunity to order a broader attack on Ukraine, a country that has already been partially divided into pieces by Russian military action. Russia conquered and annexed the Crimean peninsula in 2014, following a pro-Western revolution in Kiev. A Russian-backed militia has also controlled large parts of the Donetsk and Lugansk regions since then, fighting the Ukrainian army in a conflict, which has killed more than 14,000 people.)

According to a situation map published by the Ukrainian military, Russia now has 94,000 troops – supported by about 1,200 tanks and 330 warplanes plus other equipment – stationed along the borders with Ukraine. Most experts agree that it is too strong a force for the Ukrainian army, even though it has been hardened by seven years of war, to withstand for an extended period of time.

Pavel Felgenhauer, an independent military analyst based in Moscow, said that although there was no immediate threat of a lightning-fast Russian attack on Ukraine – because the ground in eastern Ukraine is currently too soft for tank operations – there are signs that Mr. Putin can at least consider an offensive in late December or early in the new year when the terrain is frozen.

“Russia is definitely planning a big campaign. That does not mean they will do it,” Mr Felgenhauer said in an interview. and provoke the collapse of President Volodymyr Zelensky’s government.

Russia received international condemnation in April after assembling a force of similar size near Ukraine’s borders, with troops only returning to the barracks after Mr Putin secured a one-on-one summit with US President Joe Biden. These negotiations ended without any major agreements, and the Russian newspaper Kommersant reported earlier this month that the two leaders are expected to hold a one-on-one video meeting before the end of 2021.

Tatiana Stanovaya, a non-resident researcher at the Carnegie Moscow Center, said Mr Putin was disappointed that his June meeting with Mr Biden had not led to any concessions regarding Ukraine. Russia seeks to force the Ukrainian government to grant autonomous status to the Donetsk and Lugansk regions. Such a constitutional amendment would give pro-Russian forces a veto over any future attempt by Ukraine to join the EU or NATO.

“Putin is really ready to do anything to shock the world and demonstrate that he will no longer tolerate the status quo ….” He is ready to go much further than before, “she said. Stanovaya. “It’s not about [gaining more] territory. The idea is serious and without a doubt to stop any Ukrainian ambition to join NATO one day. “

She pointed to a rare and alarming statement released this week by Russia’s military intelligence service SVR. SVR compared the situation in southeastern Ukraine with a standoff in 2008 over the erupting Georgian region of South Ossetia. Georgia also housed NATO ambitions at the time, and South Ossetia – like Donetsk and Lugansk – was under the control of pro-Russian “separatists”. A sudden escalation of the fighting around South Ossetia in 2008 was followed by a broader Russian invasion of Georgia.

The current crisis is coming while tensions remain high along the border between Belarus, a close ally of Russia, and Poland, a member of NATO. Poland recently moved 15,000 troops to its side of the border after Belarusian dictator Alexander Lukashenko invited thousands of potential refugees from Iraq, Syria and elsewhere into his country and then sent them west towards Poland and the EU with the apparent intention of creating a new migration crisis inside the bloc.

Ukrainian Foreign Minister Dmytro Kuleba warned last week that the conflict on the border between Belarus and Poland and the Russian construction around Ukraine were two fronts in a “hybrid war” that Mr Putin was waging against the West. The Kremlin has denied any role in the refugee crisis, saying it is NATO that is stepping up tensions by repeatedly holding military exercises in the Black Sea region.

Sir. Felgenhauer said the risk of a military clash between Russia and the West would increase as both Russia and NATO advance troops. “The concern is that we are seeing more and more places where [a conflict] can erupt, ”he said. “If there are any clashes on the Belarusian border – which is already NATO territory – there will be more pressure to start moving forces. And when you start moving forces forward, you will come to a situation where both sides really do not can stop. ”

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