OTTAWA — Canada will provide “non-lethal” defensive military gear, intelligence and cyber-defensive support to Ukraine and expand and extend its military training mission in Ukraine for three more years, Prime Minister Justin Trudeau said Wednesday, as part of an international effort to avert a war breaking out in eastern Europe.
“Let there be no mistake that Canada, alongside all of our democratic allies, stands strong for Ukraine, and everything we do is motivated by our pursuit of de-escalation and a diplomatic solution,” Trudeau said after wrapping up a three-day cabinet retreat, where the government calibrated its response to the threat posed by Russia’s actions on Ukraine’s borders.
The government’s plan drew immediate criticism from the Conservative opposition, as NATO allies attempted to deter Russia’s President Vladimir Putin by warning of the steep cost to Russia of any further incursion into Ukraine.
Trudeau’s announcement came hours after the U.S. rejected Moscow’s key demands that NATO bar Ukraine from future membership, and draw down weapons and military presence in nearby countries.
Washington has warned American citizens to leave Ukraine while they still have commercial travel options. Ottawa ordered family members of Canadian embassy personnel to leave on Tuesday and has warned against non-essential travel to Ukraine.
U.S. Secretary of State Antony Blinken said Wednesday that NATO will keep its “open-door” policy toward Ukraine’s bid to join NATO, and declared there is “no daylight” among NATO allies over how to respond to Russia’s military buildup.
“We make clear that there are core principles that we are committed to uphold and defend, including Ukraine’s sovereignty and territorial integrity, and the right of states to choose their own security arrangements and alliances,” Blinken said.
Trudeau said his cabinet approved the deployment of 60 military personnel on top of the 200 soldiers now involved in Canada’s training mission in Ukraine, with the possibility of increasing the total to 400.
Trudeau and his ministers defended the decision as a “significant” move and the “best way” Canada could make a difference. “This is a $340-million commitment,” said the prime minister, flanked by his deputy prime minister and ministers of defence and foreign affairs.
The “non-lethal” military assistance will include gear like body armour and optical scopes to aid in surveillance. Canada will also provide intelligence sharing and support to repel cyber attacks “so that Ukraine can defend its sovereignty, security and territorial integrity,” Trudeau said.
Additionally, Ottawa will send another $50 million for development and humanitarian aid on top of a $120-million loan to Ukraine announced last week — money for economic stabilization that Foreign Affairs Minister Mélanie Joly said was Ukraine’s primary request when she met President Volodymyr Zelenskiy there last week.
Defence Minister Anita Anand will travel to Ukraine in the coming days on a mission that Deputy Prime Minister Chrystia Freeland portrayed as vital to Canada’s interests in maintaining an international rules-based order. “The world’s dictators are watching,” said Freeland.
The government’s response drew fire from three Conservative critics, who said Trudeau “failed” to “do the right thing and support Ukraine against Russia’s aggression by providing Ukraine with lethal defensive weapons” as other countries have done.
“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,” MPs Michael Chong, Kerry-Lynne Findlay, and James Bezan said in a written statement.
THE MOST POWERFUL SALE & AFFILIATE PLATFORM AVAILABLE!
There's no credit card required! No fees ever.Create Your Free Account Now!
“The time for half measures has long passed. Ukraine needs Canada’s support and today Mr. Trudeau let them down.”
But Carleton University international affairs professor Stephen Saideman, director of the Canadian Defence and Security Network, said the government’s response “makes sense” because “it’s what we can do,” particularly the offer of cyber-defence capabilities.
“That would make more than a marginal difference, given the Russian way of doing things,” Saideman said. “It’s not really that crucial that we give them lethal assistance when other countries are sending way more.”
The U.S. has delivered tons of military aid to Kyiv this week that Blinken said is “essential to Ukraine’s front-line defenders.”
Blinken said the U.S. has invited Putin to keep talking after Russia deployed more than 100,000 troops on the Ukrainian border.
The U.S. and NATO are willing to discuss “transparency” measures around military exercises and activity, and new arms control agreements that would enhance “collective security,” he said.
“All told, it sets out a serious diplomatic path forward, should Russia choose it,” Blinken said. “The ball is in their court.”
U.S. President Joe Biden made clear a day earlier that while 8,500 American troops stand ready to reinforce NATO’s presence in member countries, “there is not going to be any American forces moving into Ukraine.”
However, Biden warned of “enormous consequences” if Putin “were to go in and invade, as he could, the entire country — or a lot less than that, as well — for Russia, not only in terms of economic consequences and political consequences, but there’ll be enormous consequences worldwide. This would be the largest — if he were to move in with all those forces, it’d be the largest invasion since World War Two. It would change the world.”
If Russia invades, the U.S. has repeatedly warned it faces “massive” and “severe” sanctions and export controls on U.S.-origin products that would be crucial to the future of the Russian economy in sectors like aerospace and defence, lasers and sensors, maritime, artificial intelligence, robotics, and quantum computing, administration officials said.
The U.S. has also identified ways to increase global shipments of natural gas to Europe if Russia tries to choke off oil and gas exports to NATO countries.
Roughly 200 Canadian Armed Forces troops are currently deployed on a training mission in Ukraine. Trudeau said they would not take part in any combat operations if hostilities break out.
“This is not a combat mission. This is a training mission. The Canadian military will be there to advise and assist,” he said.
Ukraine had asked for more Canadian soldiers to expand the Kyiv-based operation beyond 13 locations where they currently work. Trudeau said they will remain in the western part of Ukraine “where the risks are lowest and where they can concentrate most directly on training Ukrainian troops to be able to continue to defend the integrity of their territory.” He said the safety of those Canadian soldiers is “paramount.”
Tonda MacCharles is an Ottawa-based reporter covering federal politics for the Star. Follow her on Twitter: @tondamacc
Subscribe to the newsletter news
We hate SPAM and promise to keep your email address safe