Skip to main content
editorial

Canada should renew its military training mission to Ukraine, and not let it expire at the end of March. Rumour has it that the mission – called Operation UNIFIER, for some reason – will continue. But the cabinet has not yet made a decision, and its scale (up or down) remains in doubt. In this case, more is better.

That is because the conflict in the Donbass region in the southeast of Ukraine is getting worse. Some observers believe that the rising intensity is at least partly due to U.S. President Donald Trump's warm affinity for the similarly bullying tendencies of Russian President Vladimir Putin – which in turn energizes the pro-Russian rebels on the chaotic frontiers in the Donbass. This may or may not be a long-term trend.

The Canadian training mission is doing its work at almost the opposite end of Ukraine, in the northwest. These Canadian soldiers are, and will continue to be, well out of harm's way – in sharp contrast with a dangerous "peace support operation" the Liberal government wants to get involved with in Africa.

But in southeast Ukraine, things have changed. For a few years, there had been rather desultory shooting back-and-forth across a "disengagement line," with six or seven casualties a day. The numbers of casualties are now rising. The town of Avdiyivka, not far north from the pro-Russian-held city of Donetsk, has just lost its heating, electricity and water in the middle of winter.

Yes, the situation could revert to the norm, but then again it could turn into a much more brutal war.

The Canadian military personnel can't do anything to directly help the civilians of southeast Ukraine, or the Ukrainian troops in the Donbass region itself. But they can and should continue with their training mission, and could do even more by expanding the mission. A show of international support by Canada would be timely, given Mr. Trump's criticisms of NATO and his tacit support for Russia's takeover of Crimea.

Foreign Affairs Minister Chrystia Freeland, who is partly of Ukrainian heritage and very interested in the region, is a prominent presence in the federal cabinet. That makes it a good bet that the training mission will be renewed, maybe with some adjustments upwards. As it should be.