Canada is extending its military missions in Ukraine and Iraq, the federal government has announced.
Speaking to reporters in Ottawa Monday, Foreign Affairs Minister Chrystia Freeland and Defence Minister Harjit Sajjan revealed the government’s plans to extend Canada’s 200-strong military training mission in Ukraine to the end of March, 2022.
The ministers said that while Ukraine’s defence and security forces continue to make considerable progress, continuing insecurity in the region underscores the importance of Canada’s presence there. Canadian troops were first sent to Ukraine in 2015 following the Russian annexation of Crimea, but tensions between Ukraine and Russia have continued.
“The people of Ukraine know they can count on Canada,” Ms. Freeland said.
“We are steadfast in our commitment to Ukraine’s sovereignty and territorial integrity, as it works toward a stable, democratic and prosperous future.”
Tensions intensified last November when Russia seized three Ukrainian vessels and their 23 crew members in the Black Sea off the Crimean Peninsula.
“The current situation where the Russians are holding 23 sailors is completely unacceptable and we call on Russia for their immediate release,” Mr. Sajjan said.
Ottawa’s plans to extend the Ukraine mission comes on the heels of a joint effort by Canada, the United States and the European Union last week to impose new sanctions on Russian officials in response to the attack on the Ukrainian vessels and sailors last year. Canada announced sanctions on 129 individuals and entities, many of whom had direct involvement in the annexation of Crimea in 2014.
Canadian troops deployed as a part of Operation Unifier are training Ukraine’s defence and security forces on a number of fronts, including arms training, military engineering, military policing and medical training. Since the start of the mission, Canadian personnel have trained more than 10,800 Ukrainian troops.
Yurii Nykytiuk, a minister-counsellor at the Ukrainian embassy in Ottawa, said Canada’s continued support helps save the lives of Ukrainian soldiers and support democracy in Ukraine.
“We feel ourselves to be the beloved baby of Canada in the region,” Mr. Nykytiuk said.
"It’s about the Canadian leadership in the region. It’s about the values of the free world.”
Mr. Sajjan and Ms. Freeland said Canadian troops will also remain in Iraq until the end of March, 2021, where they will continue to support the U.S.-led coalition against the Islamic State, and the NATO training mission in Iraq, which Canada is currently commanding. Last summer, the Liberal government agreed to lead the new NATO mission, based out of Baghdad, for its first year.
About 250 Canadian troops are dedicated to the NATO mission; Canada has also deployed three Griffon helicopters to help with tactical transport, including casualty evacuations, if required. Separately, about 120 special forces are training Iraqi troops in northern Iraq.
Under the previous Conservative government, Canada first deployed troops and fighter jets to the U.S.-led campaign against the Islamic State in 2014 as the terror group began taking control of large areas of territory in Iraq and Syria. The Liberal government withdrew the fighter jets in 2016, revising the mission to expand its training capacity.
The Iraq mission – known as Operation Impact – is a part of Canada’s Middle East strategy, which has contributed more than $2.1-billion toward security, stabilization and humanitarian and development assistance in response to the crises in Iraq and Syria since 2016.