Canada is set to extend the training mission in Ukraine as the country considers a request for assistance

A convoy of Russian armored vehicles is moving along a highway in Crimea on January 18, 2022. Russia has concentrated an estimated 100,000 troops with tanks and other heavy weapons near Ukraine in what the West fears may be the prelude to an invasion.Associated Press

Ottawa is ready to extend a military training mission in Ukraine for another six months and is considering expanding the number of deployed soldiers and providing Kiev with defensive weapons and equipment, two government sources said.

Measures under consideration by the Liberal Cabinet include handguns as well as night goggles, helmets, armored vests and military radios for Ukraine’s armed forces. On the table is also intelligence and cyber security advice, probably through Canada’s Signal Intelligence Agency known as the Communications Security Establishment.

And Prime Minister Justin Trudeau said on Wednesday that Ottawa is also preparing a list of economic sanctions that will be imposed on Moscow if Russia launches a military offensive against Ukraine.

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“We are working with our international partners and colleagues to make it very, very clear that Russian aggression is absolutely unacceptable,” he said. Trudeau to journalists. “We stand there with diplomatic responses, with sanctions, with a full judicial press to ensure that Russia respects the people of Ukraine.”

Sources said Canada is talking to the United States, Britain and other countries about punishing economic sanctions, which President Joe Biden on Wednesday said would severely damage Russia’s financial system.

“If they invade, they will pay. Their banks will not be able to trade dollars,” Mr. Biden told a White House news conference.

The president said that “my guess” is that Russia will invade eastern Ukraine, but warned that it will also pay a high price for loss of human life.

A Canadian response to the Ukraine crisis is being developed as Foreign Minister Mélanie Joly concludes a fact-finding trip to Kiev and Europe this week.

Foreign Minister Mélanie Joly will visit the International Training Center of the Ukrainian National Guard in the village of Stare in the Kyiv region on 18 January. Ms. Joly’s visit was a testament to Canada’s solidarity amid growing fears of a Russian invasion of Ukraine.NATIONAL GUARD OF UKRAINE / Reuters

On Tuesday, Mr Trudeau convened a special cabinet meeting with selected ministers and officials to discuss the range of options being considered.

These include increasing the contingent of Canadian military-soldiers trainers over the current 200; dispatch of lethal and non-lethal military hardware to Ukraine; and financial sanctions, according to two officials. The Globe and Mail does not identify officials because they were not authorized to discuss cabinet negotiations.

Ukraine has asked Canada to follow Britain’s lead and urgent deliveries of short-range anti-tank missiles, bought with a £ 2 billion loan from the British government. Canadian government sources said Ottawa is not ready to supply that type of offensive weapon.

One source warned that no aid decisions were made on Tuesday night, but a statement on the extension of the military training mission and package of measures, such as small arms, to help Ukraine is expected next week. The training mission is currently scheduled to end in March.

A Russian armored vehicle is driving off a railway platform after arriving in Belarus on 19 January. In a move that further strengthens the forces near Ukraine, Russia has sent an unspecified number of troops from the country’s Far East to its ally Belarus, which shares a border with Ukraine.Associated Press

Officials will also not discuss how many more Ottawa soldiers could end up sending to Ukraine as part of the renewal of the military training mission, called Operation Unifier.

On Wednesday, the Royal Canadian Navy frigate HMCS sailed Montreal toward the Mediterranean and Black Sea region near Russia for a six-month deployment as part of Canada’s commitments to the Alliance with the North Atlantic Treaty.

Ihor Michalchyshyn, Executive Director of the Ukrainian Canadian Congress, said the measures being discussed in the Cabinet require a swift decision.

“Giving Ukraine assistance now, as opposed to later, will help change Russia’s calculations for invasion scenarios,” he said.

Mr. Michalchyshyn said it is in Canada’s national interest to help deter Russian aggression in Eastern Europe.

Andrew Vaughan / The Canadian Press

Nova Scotia Lt.-Gov. Arthur LeBlanc above, accompanied by his wife Patsy, waves to the crew as HMCS Montreal, at the top, leaves Halifax for a six-month deployment on a NATO mission in the Mediterranean on 19 January.Andrew Vaughan / The Canadian Press

“If a country that also happens to be on our northern border happens to invade its neighbor with 150,000 soldiers, it is not unreasonable that one day they may push their interests in the Canadian Arctic,” he said.

Canada is home to more than 1.4 million people of Ukrainian descent: the largest community in the world after Russia outside Ukraine.

Mr. However, Michalchyshyn noted that Canada is lagging behind American and European allies in sanctions imposed on Russian officials over interference in Ukraine.

Mr. Michalchyshyn said former heads of the Canadian training mission in Ukraine have told him that it is a very useful learning exercise for Canada to become familiar with the hybrid warfare tactics Russia uses.

The key players in Tuesday’s cabinet discussions on Ukraine were the Chief of Defense Staff, General Wayne Eyre, as well as Mrs Joly, Deputy Prime Minister Chrystia Freeland, Defense Minister Anita Anand and Privy Council Secretary Janice Charette.

Ms. Freeland, a strong critic of Vladimir Putin’s regime and whose mother helped draft Ukraine’s constitution, has played a significant role in cabinet discussions, particularly on sanctions in her role as finance minister, sources said. Russia imposed a travel ban on Ms Freeland in 2014 for her role in hitting Moscow with sanctions for its invasion and annexation of the Ukrainian peninsula of Crimea.

Ukrainian soldiers with the 56th Brigade stand guard at the front line in Pisky, Ukraine, on 18 January. Negotiations last week between Russian and Western diplomats, who hoped to neutralize the prospect of a Russian invasion of Ukraine, ended without conclusion.Brendan Hoffman / Getty Images

Russia is already in open conflict with Ukraine. Russian-backed militants conquered part of the highly industrialized eastern Ukraine eight years ago – and helped paralyze the country’s economic capacity – and have been fighting Kyiv’s forces there ever since.

Ottawa has committed about $ 700 million in assistance to Ukraine since January 2014, including the supply of non-lethal military equipment, such as winter tents and clothing, and the deployment of rotations of 200 Canadian armed forces every six months to train Ukrainian security forces.

The Canadian soldiers’ trainers are headquartered in Kiev, but operate in 13 locations around Ukraine, including Mykolaiv in the south of the country. The training the Canadian forces are engaged in includes: sniper skills, medical treatment, artillery and engineering, according to spokeswoman Lieutenant Commander Julie McDonald of the Canadian Joint Operations Command Headquarters.

The fear of the bite only encourages Russia

Paul Grod, president of the Ukrainian World Congress, said it was important to remember that Russia had already invaded Ukraine. “Right now we are talking about the risk of a further invasion. Ukraine has already been invaded and occupied and there is an ongoing war,” he said.

Western allies should make it clear that if Russia does not withdraw its support for militants in eastern Ukraine, there will be further countermeasures “and not just the status quo” there, he said.

During a visit to Kiev on Wednesday, US Secretary of State Antony Blinken said a Russian attack on Ukraine could take place at “very short notice”, although he promised to pursue a diplomatic solution for as long as possible.

But Mr Blinken, who is scheduled to meet with Russian Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov on Friday in the Swiss city of Geneva to discuss the crisis, said he would not give Mr Lavrov a written response to Russian security proposals released by Moscow. as “draft”. treaties ”last month.

The Kremlin has said it expects a written response to its proposals, which include a call for the United States to guarantee that Ukraine will never be allowed to join NATO’s military alliance, and that NATO is withdrawing its forces stationed in Eastern Europe. .

Protesters carry a banner during a protest against Russian President Vladimir Putin in Kiev, Ukraine, on January 9. Canada is home to more than 1.4 million people of Ukrainian descent, the largest community in the world after Russia outside Ukraine.VALENTYN OGIRENKO / Reuters

Speaking at a news conference with Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky, Mr Blinken described Russia’s demands as “non-starters”.

There were mixed messages from Moscow on Wednesday when Deputy Foreign Minister Sergei Ryabkov told a CNN reporter that his country had no plans to invade Ukraine. But other Russian officials continued to suggest that some form of escalation was imminent.

“There will come a moment of truth when the West either accepts our proposal or other ways will be found to protect Russia’s security,” Konstantin Gavrilov, the leader of Russia’s arms control negotiating team, told the Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe. . “We’re running out of time. The countdown begins.”

NDP leader Jagmeet Singh said on Tuesday he was not in favor of arming Ukrainian troops, saying targeted sanctions were a better option.

Heather McPherson, the NDP’s foreign critic, said the party would like to see Ottawa and its Western allies begin imposing some sort of sanction as a warning to President Vladimir Putin.

“No one wants war,” she said. “Our priority should be to use economic and diplomatic sanctions to de-escalate the situation and deter Russia from further aggression.”

U.S. President Joe Biden on Wednesday predicted that Russian President Vladimir Putin would make a military move into Ukraine, but said a full-scale invasion would trigger a massive response that would be costly for Russia and its economy.

Reuters

With reports from Nathan VanderKlippe

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