Anita Anand says Canada will send tanks to Ukraine — and that the move is more than symbolic
OTTAWA— The Canadian government said it will send four of its Leopard 2 heavy battle tanks, ammunition, spare parts and trainers to Ukrainian forces, a day after Germany agreed to allow international allies to supply the German-designed tanks in an attempt to turn the tide against the Russian invasion.
Defence Minister Anita Anand told a news conference the Canadian Forces may increase its contribution in the months ahead, and contended that supplying just four out of Canada’s fleet of 82 battle tanks is more than symbolic, especially as it includes the deployment of trainers, ammunition and spare parts as part of an international push to help Ukraine defeat Russia.
“We are part of a global allied collective to ensure that we are maximizing the amount of aid overall and the number of tanks that we can send,” she said.
Defence analyst David Perry, president of the Canadian Global Affairs Institute, said four is “a pretty small number, but our army, and the armoured part of it, is much smaller than some of the other contributors,” pointing to Finland and Poland which each have a couple of hundred tanks. He said Canada’s decision to send the model used for training is in part because “that specific type is what some other allies are sending, so there will be some efficiency there.”
“And depending on how much training we do, we could make a more significant impact through training than with the four tanks we send,” he added.
Gen. Wayne Eyre, chief of the defence staff, said military planners had been working for weeks on the decision to send an older model tank that Canada has used for training but other countries have used for operations. He said the model Ottawa will dispatch is the Leopard 2 A4, “the same as a number of our allies are providing including Poland. That will allow us to have interoperability of training, of spare parts and ammunition.”
The Canadian government was reluctant to send lethal weapons at the outset of the war on Feb. 24, but Anand defended the decision now, saying the war “has changed.” She said the Russian invasion was always “unacceptable” but given Ukraine’s ability to reclaim territory in the east, “what has changed is the need to continue to support Ukraine with the military equipment that it needs in the short and the long term, to secure victory and to reclaim territory.”
She emphasized that Canada has responded all along to specific requests from Ukraine, “and now Ukraine has asked for tanks and Canada not only is stepping up today with four tanks but is continuing to evaluate what more we can do in the area of tanks and military.”
“Maintaining tanks is difficult, especially in light of the complexity of this vehicle. This is not just like changing oil in a car,” she said. “This is a need to make sure that we have continued flow of spare parts that are able to be received to maintain the tanks and then to utilize them where necessary to deploy them.”
Eyre said the military would begin to airlift the four tanks one-by-one on its C-17 cargo transport planes over the coming weeks.
The Leopard 2 tanks are the main heavy tanks of Canada’s army, and Eyre said several allies in Europe have many hundreds in their inventories, whereas Canada’s fleet is relatively small.
He suggested the combined aid flowing from the U.S., the U.K. and other European allies will make a mark, and dismissed Russian claims the increased firepower to Ukraine will escalate tensions with NATO.
“Russia will use any excuse to launch further attacks and they will grab on to any shred of credibility that they can find, but I don’t put much credence in that,” Eyre said.
“If they want to de-escalate, they can leave Ukraine.”
Canada has 82 Leopard 2 tanks in three different battle and training configurations, and another 30 designed for field support.
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They are heavily armoured and highly protected vehicles, which the military says provide a tactical advantage in terms of mobility and firepower “survivability.” They are used to provide direct fire support on the battlefield.
Ukraine President Volodymyr Zelenskyy has waged a weeks-long campaign to pressure allies to supply the tanks, but Anand said the decisions came together very quickly in the past two weeks.
The U.S. and Germany announced Wednesday they would ramp up military support to Ukraine, with the U.S. pledging M1 Abrams tanks, reversing months of persistent arguments by Washington that they were too difficult for Ukrainian troops to operate and maintain.
Germany had been under growing pressure to approve the dispatch of its technology, but insisted it would only do so if the U.S. also stepped up.
Poland, the Czech Republic and other NATO countries had already provided Ukraine with hundreds of smaller Soviet-made tanks from the Cold War era, when they were part of the Soviet bloc. Ukrainian armed forces have used similar aging weaponry, and needed no extra training to use them.
But Germany had held off allowing export of its technology and tanks it had sold abroad out of fears of escalating the conflict and drawing NATO forces into an all-out war against Russia.
Russia condemned the move as just that, and in the last 24 hours has increased its attacks on Ukraine territory and infrastructure.
National security expert Wesley Wark was skeptical in an online commentary of Anand’s claim the latest announcement was more than symbolism.
“The upshot of a risible announcement to send four Leopard tanks is that Canada must send more in future,” Wark wrote. “It would have been far better to say that Canada was preparing an initial and immediate deployment of four tanks to be followed as soon as possible by an additional unspecified number, as consultations with allies proceeded.”
In a written statement, the head of the Ukrainian Canadian Congress welcomed the latest announcement by the Trudeau government. Alexandra Chyczij said the tanks supplied by Canada and its allies will be “a game-changer in the fight for the liberation of Ukrainian territories from brutal Russian occupation.”
“The sooner Ukrainian forces drive the Russian invaders from sovereign Ukrainian land, the sooner peace will return to Ukraine and to Europe,” she said.
Anand travelled in secret to Kyiv last week, where she announced Canada would purchase and send to Ukraine an additional 200 armoured personnel carriers made in Mississauga, on top of eight already provided, at a cost of $90 million.
Ottawa also pledged $406 million to donate U.S.-made surface-to-air defence missile systems to Ukraine, as part of $500 million the Trudeau government pledged in November for military aid.
In total, Canada has contributed about $1 billion in military support — and about $5 billion overall, including financial and humanitarian aid — to support Ukraine since last February’s Russian invasion.
With files from the Associated Press
Tonda MacCharles is an Ottawa-based reporter covering federal politics for the Star. Follow her on Twitter: @tondamacc
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