As threat of invasion looms, Ukraine demands weapons and Canada develops evacuation plans
Canada faced increased pressure on Tuesday to match U.S. and British deliveries of defensive weapons to Ukraine as the threat of a Russian invasion continues to loom over Eastern Europe.
The Liberal government has heard calls for arms deliveries both at home and in Kyiv, where Foreign Affairs Minister Melanie Joly wrapped up a second day of meetings Tuesday with senior Ukrainian officials, including her counterpart Dmytro Kuleba.
At the same time, Canadian military officers and diplomats grapple with the challenges they would face if they had to evacuate military trainers and civilians in a hurry.
Unlike those of other allied nations, Canada’s military training contingent is spread across 13 different locations in western and central Ukraine. Putting them all together for a quick escape could be tricky.
But the question of how far the Trudeau government is willing to go to supply Ukraine with defensive weapons systems dominated Joly’s remarks on Tuesday.
“We heard loud and clear the demands of the Ukrainian government. Many officials here reiterated those demands,” Joly said in a joint press conference with Kuleba.
She may have heard the pleas, but Ottawa is still considering the request — as it has for months. The United Kingdom announced on Monday that it had sent anti-tank weapons along with a handful of troops to show Ukrainians how to use them.
Last October, the Pentagon provided Ukraine with high-tech anti-tank Javelin missiles along with its shipment of military aid.
“We know it’s important to play our part in this context and so we are reviewing the options and will make a decision in due course,” Joly said.
Federal government faces domestic pressure to arm Ukraine
The Ukrainian Canadian Congress (UCC) has actively lobbied the Liberal government to support Ukraine and has had meetings with three federal ministers over the past few months.
“We are talking to all parties, all officials who will meet with us,” said UCC executive director Ihor Michalchyshyn.
Last month, the UCC presented Joly with a rough list of defensive weapons it thought Canada could supply. He also called on the government to deploy additional sanctions against a Russian private security contractor designated by the United States and European countries for sanctions.
Michalchyshyn said he believes the federal government has heard their pleas and appreciates the seriousness of the situation – but there has been no sign of action on the defensive weapons issue.
‘Do it now’
“Our main goal is to do that now,” Michalchyshyn said. “Russia will be deterred if Ukraine has help now, not after an invasion. It will be too late to send satellite systems and missiles to Ukraine if the Russians have already invaded.”
At the same time, peace advocates have intensified their pleas for the Canadian government to refuse the request for additional weapons.
In a statement, a coalition of groups including the Canadian Foreign Policy Institute expressed concern over “Canada’s role in fomenting the dangerous escalating conflict in Ukraine.” He urged the Liberals to end arms sales to Ukraine and end the military training project.
Military and civilian officials are now considering what should happen to Canada’s military training mission and how to get those soldiers – and Canadian civilians living and working in Ukraine – out of harm’s way.
Plan for the worst
As part of his trip to Ukraine, Joly met trainers who trained soldiers and reservists of the Ukrainian army in battlefield combat and first aid techniques.
Lieutenant-Colonel Luc-Frédéric Gilbert, commander of the Canadian training mission, acknowledged in an interview with CBC News that contingency plans for an evacuation have been drawn up. He declined to discuss specifics, citing operational security.
“We are not a combat mission,” he said. “Being an unarmed mission, we have different activities here than other missions around the world. So the answer is yes, we have plans…”
Canada’s former military representative to NATO, retired Vice-Admiral Bob Davidson, says pulling people under fire can be difficult, but the problems are not insurmountable with enough planning and notice.
He acknowledged that the federal government has struggled in the past with large-scale evacuations, but the situation in Ukraine would come as no surprise.
The most recent example of an evacuation gone wrong in Canada is its chaotic departure from Afghanistan last summer – an operation that left dozens of Canadians and people who worked for the Canadian military trapped under the Taliban regime.
Davidson said Moscow will want to make sure the non-combatants step aside if the shooting starts.
“It would not be in Russia’s interest to prevent forces like Canadian forces from getting out of the way, because the last thing they really want is to get into a conflict with NATO forces. “, did he declare.
Still, there have been reports that additional Canadian special forces troops have been 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 fall 2020. A source told Global News that a separate team has now been dispatched.