Canada extends military operation in Ukraine for three years
Prime Minister Justin Trudeau announced on Wednesday the extension of Operation UNIFIER for three years, and the deployment of 60 more troops to Ukraine in the coming days.
Trudeau made the announcement following a cabinet meeting, alongside Deputy Prime Minister Chrystia Freeland, Foreign Affairs Minister Melanie Joly, and Defence Minister Anita Anand.
The operation, which trains Ukrainian armed forces and the national guard, was set to expire in March. A group of 200 Canadian Armed Forces members are sent to the country every six months.
The $340 million commitment is in response to escalating tensions at the western Ukraine border where approximately 100,000 Russian troops have amassed, prompting concerns of an imminent invasion.
On top of the additional 60 personnel, Trudeau said there is capacity to increase the number of boots on the ground to up to 400.
“The biggest contribution that Canada can make to Ukraine right now is people. We have trained, our soldiers have trained over 30,000 Ukrainian soldiers. We should not underestimate the importance of this training mission,” said Anand.
The government also announcement a shipment of non-lethal equipment to Ukraine, intelligence sharing, and support to combat cyberattacks.
“We continue to call on Russia de-escalate and engage in meaningful dialogue until a peaceful, diplomatic solution is reached,” said the prime minister.
“The direct threat of Russian invasion, to take control of Ukraine, to take away the choice of Ukrainian people to choose their future is something that concerns not just Ukraine, not just Eastern Europe, but all of us who cherish democracy.”
Russia has denied claims of a future attack, and officials there say troops are simply performing routine military exercises.
The U.S. and the U.K. have begun sending lethal weapons in response to a direct ask from Ukrainian officials.
Asked why Canada is choosing to send non-lethal equipment, Trudeau said his team is continuing to monitor the situation at the border but noted the government’s priority is focused squarely on helping Ukraine defend itself.
Canada has another 900 troops stationed in central and eastern Europe as part of Operation REASSURANCE.
“We have an extremely large footprint relative to our counterparts, indeed we have other countries at the current time suggesting that they join Operation UNIFIER because of the leading role that we play,” said Anand.
The minister noted that the type of training under Operation UNIFIER includes “unit and brigade level tactical training, combat engineer training such as improvised explosive device disposal and explosive ordnance disposal, sniper reconnaissance, military policing, development of non-commissioned officer corps and medical training.”
The minister is scheduled to travel to Ukraine and Latvia in the coming days to visit with Canadian troops.
Last week, Ottawa announced a $120 million loan to Ukraine and offered a “technical assistance grant of up to $6 million to support the implementation of the loan.”
“Russia is aiming to destabilize Ukraine, including economically. This loan will help support Ukraine's economic resilience,” Trudeau said on Jan. 21. “We're also exploring other options to provide financial and other supports.”
Up to $50 million more will go towards development and humanitarian aid, the government announced Wednesday.
Conservative MPs Michael Chong, Kerry-Lynne Findlay and James Bezan weighed in on the news, stating that the Liberals failed to “do the right thing” by choosing not to send Ukraine lethal defensive weapons.
“This lack of action by Prime Minister Trudeau calls into question the Liberal government’s support for Ukraine in their fight against Russia’s aggression. The time for half measures has long passed. Ukraine needs Canada’s support and today Mr. Trudeau let them down,” a statement reads.
In addition to Ukraine’s request for weapons and equipment, they have asked that Canada impose sectoral sanctions to demonstrate to Russia the cost of further aggression.
The government has committed to “severe consequences” including “coordinated sanctions” with allies, should an attack occur.