Canada is lending Ukraine up to $120-million as it readies for possible war with Russia.
Prime Minister Justin Trudeau, who announced the loan on Friday, signalled more support is to come as the Liberal government toughens its tone on the threat of Russian invasion and mulls more soldier training and defensive military gear for Ukraine.
“Canada has been and will continue to be a friend and ally of Ukraine and we will continue to be there to support them and ensure Ukrainian people get to determine their future – not Vladimir Putin.”
Mr. Trudeau said the loan is intended to help “support Ukraine’s economic resilience.” He said the money will help the country weather Moscow’s efforts to damage its neighbour through “economic destabilization.”
The Canadian loan announcement capped a week of blunt talk on Ukraine from the Trudeau government as the risk of war grows in Eastern Europe.
A Russian military buildup on the border with Ukraine – as many as 100,000 troops – has raised fears of an invasion that the White House has warned could come “at any point.” Russia has asked for guarantees that NATO will not expand membership to include Ukraine and other ex-Soviet states – commitments that have been refused.
Mr. Trudeau offered unqualified support for Ukraine on Friday. Canada is home to the second-largest population of Ukrainian origin outside Ukraine.
“We are looking to do more and will have more to say as the situation unfolds,” the Prime Minister said. “We will always be there with the necessary supports.”
The Canadian loan money cannot be used to buy weapons, Department of Global Affairs spokesperson Geneviève Tremblay said in a statement.
The Prime Minister said the loan doesn’t preclude giving Ukraine defensive military gear it has requested. Britain is supplying short-range anti-tank missiles for self-defence, while Estonia, Latvia and Lithuania are sending U.S.-made anti-armour and anti-aircraft missiles, their defence ministers said in a joint statement on Friday. The Czech Republic is considering a shipment of artillery ammunition.
Since Jan. 15, Ottawa has warned Canadians against non-essential travel to Ukraine “due to ongoing Russian aggression and military buildup in and around the country.” There are 661 Canadian citizens in Ukraine who have registered their presence with Ottawa. But Global Affairs spokesperson Patricia Skinner said this may be an undercount, because registration is voluntary.
The Globe and Mail has reported that Canada is poised to extend a military mission in Ukraine in which 200 soldiers are training their Ukrainian counterparts in skills such as sniper shooting and using artillery. The government is also considering an increase in the number of trainers. The mission is headquartered in Kyiv, but Canadian soldiers are in 13 locations across Ukraine.
Mr. Trudeau said Canada’s training mission is intended to ensure Ukrainians are ready to fight “any incursion or invasion by Russian forces.”
The United States has ruled out sending U.S. troops into combat in Ukraine.
Mr. Trudeau declined to rule it out for Canadian soldiers.
“It is extremely disconcerting to see the buildup of Russian troops, to see Russian aggression, Russian cyberattacks, Russian economic destabilization of Ukraine,” he told reporters.
Asked again if he would guarantee Canadian troops would not enter any Ukraine-Russia conflict, Mr. Trudeau replied: “I am not going to engage in hypotheticals. I am going to continue to say what I have said: We are looking to support the people of Ukraine in the challenges they are facing against an aggressive Russia that has amassed troops at the border, that is interfering in Ukrainian political affairs, that is using cyberattacks and propaganda to destabilize Ukraine.”
Paul Grod, president of the Ukrainian World Congress, welcomed the loans, but urged Canada in a statement to “follow the lead of the United Kingdom and other Western allies in providing much-needed military equipment that will save Ukrainian lives.”
Retired lieutenant-general Michael Day, who headed Canadian Special Operations Forces Command, said the $120-million could free up other funds for Ukraine to buy weapons.
However, he said, weapons such as anti-tank missiles are expensive, and that amount wouldn’t buy much.
He said he expects Canada to announce an extension of the training mission that includes more than the 200 solider-trainers currently in Ukraine, as well as small arms and night goggles.
Mr. Day described the measures under consideration as a declaration of support, and said if Ottawa was really serious about helping the Ukrainians, it would send soldier-trainers into Eastern Ukraine.
“Quite frankly, the most valuable thing for the Ukrainians is to have as many Western troops as far east as possible,” he said, but added that won’t happen because no one wants to put their soldiers in the line of fire if Russia invades.
“So I think we will have a token augmentation to the training force that will stay in its current location,” he said. “I do think we also will provide some war stock.”
Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky on Twitter said the Canadian assistance reflects a “special partnership between our two countries” and Andrii Bukvych, chargé d’affaires of Ukraine to Canada, said his country hopes for further support that incudes help to combat “ongoing cyberattacks against Ukraine’s infrastructure.”
Russia is already in open conflict with Ukraine. It invaded and annexed the Ukrainian Crimean peninsula in 2014. Russian-backed militants also seized a chunk of heavily industrialized Eastern Ukraine eight years ago – damaging the country’s economic capacity – and have been fighting Kyiv’s forces there since.
Foreign Affairs Minister Mélanie Joly warned Moscow this week Canada will join allies in imposing severe sanctions if Russia invades Ukraine.
Since the annexation of Crimea in 2014, Canada has imposed sanctions on more than 440 individuals and entities, many in co-ordination with allies.
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