While the threat of invasion piles up, Ukraine asks for weapons – and Canada makes evacuation plans

Canada on Tuesday faced increased pressure to match US and British shipments of defensive weapons to Ukraine as the threat of a Russian invasion continues to hang over Eastern Europe.

The Liberal government has heard demands for arms shipments both at home and in Kiev, with Foreign Minister Mélanie Joly ending another day of meetings on Tuesday with senior Ukrainian officials, including her colleague Dmytro Kuleba.

At the same time, Canadian military officers and diplomats are struggling with the challenges they would face if they had to evacuate military trainers and civilians in a hurry.

Unlike those from other allied nations, Canada’s contingent of military trainers is spread across 13 different locations in the western and central parts of Ukraine. It can be difficult to gather them all for quick evacuation.

But the question of how far the Trudeau government is willing to go in supplying Ukraine with defensive weapons systems dominated Joly’s remarks on Tuesday.

“We have heard loud and clear the demands from the Ukrainian government. Many of the officials here have repeated these demands,” Joly said during a joint media accessibility with Kuleba.

In this photo provided by the Ukrainian National Guard Press Office, Foreign Minister Melanie Joly listens to a Canadian instructor’s report during her visit to the National Guard’s base near Kiev, Ukraine, on Tuesday, January 18, 2022. (AP)

She may have heard the prayers, but Ottawa is still studying the request – as it has been for several months. Britain announced on Monday that it has dispatched anti-tank weapons along with a handful of soldiers to show the Ukrainians how to use them.

Last October, the Pentagon supplied Ukraine with high-tech, tank-blasting Javelin missiles along with its military aid shipment.

“We know it’s important to play our part in this context, and that’s why we’re looking at opportunities and we want to make a decision in a timely manner,” Joly said.

Feds face domestic pressure to arm Ukraine

The Ukrainian Canadian Congress (UCC) has actively lobbied the Liberal government to support Ukraine and has held sit-down meetings with three federal ministers over the past few months.

“We are out talking to all parties, all officials who will meet with us,” said Ihor Michalchyshyn, UCC’s CEO.

Last month, the UCC presented Joly with a rough list of the defensive weapons it thought Canada could supply. It also called on the government to impose further sanctions on a Russian private security firm, which the United States and European countries have designated as sanctions.

Michalchyshyn said he believes the federal government heard their prayers and appreciates the seriousness of the situation – but there has been no sign of action on the issue of defensive weapons.

‘Do it now’

“Our main point is to do it now,” Michalchyshyn said. “Russia will be deterred if Ukraine has assistance now, not after an invasion. It will be too late to send Ukraine’s satellite systems and missiles if the Russians have already invaded.”

At the same time, peace activists have stepped up their prayers to the Canadian government to reject 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 spurring the dangerous, escalating conflict in Ukraine.” It called on the Liberals to halt arms sales to Ukraine and suspend the military training project.

Military and civilian officials are now considering what to do with Canada’s military training mission and how to get these soldiers – along with Canadian civilians living and working in Ukraine – out of danger.

Planning the worst

As part of his trip to Ukraine, Joly met with trainers who have trained Ukrainian army soldiers and reservists in combat and first aid skills on the battlefield.

Lieutenant Colonel. Luc-Frederic Gilbert, Canadian head of the training mission, admitted in an interview with CBC News that contingency plans have been drawn up for an evacuation. He declined to discuss the details, citing operational safety.

“We are not a combat mission,” he said. “As an unarmed mission, we have other activities here than other missions around the world. So the answer is, yes, we have plans …”

Canada’s former military representative in NATO, retired Vice Admiral Bob Davidson, said it could be a challenge to get people out under shelling, but the problems are not insurmountable with adequate planning and advance warning.

He acknowledged that the federal government had previously struggled with large-scale evacuations, but the situation in Ukraine would not come as a surprise.

Ukrainian and Canadian soldiers are doing training exercises at the Yavorivsky training ground near Lviv, western Ukraine, on Thursday, April 15, 2021. (Press Office of the Ukrainian Ministry of Defense via AP)

Canada’s most recent example of an evacuation going wrong was its chaotic departure from Afghanistan last summer – an operation that left dozens of Canadians and people working for the Canadian military captured under Taliban rule.

Davidson said Moscow will make sure non-combatants get out of the way if the shooting starts.

“It would not be in Russia’s best interest to block forces like Canadian forces from getting out of the way, because the last thing they really want is to get into some kind of conflict with NATO forces,” he said.

Still, there have been reports that additional Canadian special forces were sent to Ukraine to help with evacuation planning.

The military has had a special forces contingent in the country as part of the training mission since the fall of 2020. A source told Global News that a separate team has now been deployed.

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