Canada is sending four combat-ready battle tanks to Ukraine and will be deploying "a number" of Canadian Armed Forces members to train Ukrainian soldiers on how to operate them.
Defence Minister Anita Anand made the announcement on Thursday alongside Chief of Defence Staff Gen. Wayne Eyre, vowing that in addition to the initial four Leopard 2 tanks, Canada may send additional tanks at a later date.
Canada's delivery of the tanks will take place "in the coming weeks," while the provision of trainers, as well as spare parts and ammunition, is pending co-ordination with allies, said the defence minister. The training will be done in a third country.
"These heavily armoured and highly protected vehicles provide soldiers with a tactical advantage on the battlefield, thanks to their excellent mobility, their firepower and there's their survivability," said Anand, who was in Ukraine to meet her counterpart last week. "These tanks will allow Ukraine to liberate even more of its territory and defend its people from Russia's brutal invasion."
The federal government's decision comes after days of dodging questions about whether Canada would be joining several other allied nations who have already responded to Ukraine's request for Western battle tanks.
Ukraine has been asking allies to offer up these military vehicles to assist its now nearly year-long defence against Russia, though the call has prompted concerns around escalating the conflict.
Asked how he'd respond to suggestions that providing battle tanks is an escalation, Eyre said if Russia wants to de-escalate, "they can leave Ukraine."
CANADA'S MOVE FOLLOWS INTERNATIONAL PRESSURE
On Wednesday, after increasing pressure, Germany and the United States announced they would be organizing the shipment of dozens of Leopard 2 tanks, The Associated Press has reported. And, after Poland called on the German government to permit other countries–such as Canada–who have purchased these German-made military vehicles to follow suit, Berlin green-lit re-exporting the tanks.
Ahead of Anand's announcement, Poland's Prime Minister Mateusz Morawiecki called on Canada to join them.
"It is very important that the free world is in full solidarity supporting Ukraine," Morawiecki said in an exclusive interview with CTV News Channel’s Power Play. "Modern tanks are very important, extremely important on this battlefield in Ukraine. So I do hope that Canada is going to be even more generous in Canadian supplies for Ukraine."
Russia has responded to the news of a coalition of Western countries supplying these tanks to Ukraine by launching a new wave of attacks, according to The Associated Press.
WHAT EXACTLY IS CANADA SENDING?
The Canadian Armed Forces currently has 82 German-made Leopard 2 battle tanks in three variants and in various states of serviceability. These include 42 Leopard 2A4s, 20 Leopard 2A4Ms, and 20 2A6Ms.
It is the Leopard 2A4s variety that Canada is sending, the same as a number of allied countries including Poland.
"We have used them for training but also many countries in the world have used them for training as well," said Eyre, calling them "much, much better" than the tanks Russia is using.
Eyre said that for weeks the Canadian military has been making plans for how to transport these tanks to Ukraine, telling reporters that Canada's C-17 Globemasters will "probably" be used, carrying one tank per flight.
"So, the effort to get those over is going to be something serious," he said.
Anand defended the limited initial donation, saying that the number Canada is sending was "carefully considered" to ensure that domestic readiness is maintained and that the military remains able to meet its NATO commitments.
"Given the complexity of operating these tanks, it is more important than ever, that we co-ordinate our efforts tightly. Tanks are not easy to maintain, but their sustainment will be essential to Ukraine's overall success and victory," Anand said. "This is the type of approach we are taking collectively with our allies, ensuring that we have a platform of vehicles that will be important for their readiness."
Facing questions throughout the week on whether Canada would be willing to send any tanks to Ukraine, federal officials pointed to the more than $1 billion in military assistance Canada has provided Ukraine since February 2022 and said that in order to get to peace, allies needed to continue to arm Ukraine.
"This donation combined with the contributions of allies and partners will significantly help the armed forces of Ukraine as they fight heroically, to defend their nation's freedom and sovereignty," Anand said.
TANKS TO UKRAINE A 'GAME CHANGER'
Reacting to the news, Ukrainian Canadian Congress national president Alexandra Chyczij applauded Canada's decision to join the international coalition of allies sending tanks to Ukraine, calling this latest tranche of military aid a "game changer."
"Battle tanks play a fundamentally different role than the armored personnel carriers that Canada had sent previously," defence analyst David Perry of the Canadian Global Affairs Institute told CTV News.
"They have a much larger gun on them than in a lot of other cases, so they can they can pack a bigger punch. The tank treads that they have also allow them to go places that wheeled vehicles can't. And the other thing is, they're designed to withstand more incoming fire."
"It certainly gives Ukraine the offensive capability to start to push the Russians back," said retired major-general David Fraser in an interview on CTV News Channel, calling the decision an "escalation of capabilities" both from a tactical and political point of view.
"And when you add that to the $2.5 billion that the Americans have already given them in equipment, they should actually have the offensive capability in the spring to actually deliver the Russians a serious blow," Fraser said.
With files from CTV News' Annie Bergeron-Oliver, Mike Le Couteur, and Vassy Kapelos
This story has been corrected to reflect that Anand met with her Ukrainian counterpart last week.