Canada is providing lethal weapons to Ukraine and a $500-million loan as the Eastern European country girds for possible war with Russia.
Prime Minister Justin Trudeau said Monday his government has approved the shipment of $7.8-million of weapons and ammunition “in light of the seriousness of the situation” facing Ukraine. Canada joins countries including the United States, Britain, Poland, the Czech Republic, the Netherlands and Lithuania in sending weapons.
Ottawa had been asked repeatedly by Kyiv to provide weapons since tensions began rising with Russia last fall.
More than 130,000 Russian troops are now massed near Ukraine’s border. The White House has repeatedly warned an invasion could start any day.
Security concerns have forced the temporary closing of Ottawa’s embassy in Kyiv, with the few remaining diplomats relocating to the city of Lviv. Canadian troops on a Ukraine military training mission are being moved to Poland.
Canada’s donation to the Armed Forces of Ukraine includes machine guns, pistols, carbines, sniper rifles and 1.5 million rounds of ammunition, the Department of National Defence said in a press release.
Mr. Trudeau said the intent of aid from Canada and Western allies is to “deter further Russian aggression.”
He said it’s important for Canadians and the world “to know that Canada will continue supporting Ukraine and its independence, integrity, sovereignty and its right to defend itself.”
The government could not say Monday precisely how long it would take this gear to reach Ukraine. Daniel Minden, press secretary to Defence Minister Anita Anand, said it “would ensure that this aid arrives as quickly as possible.”
Fen Hampson, a professor of international affairs at Carleton University in Ottawa, said Canada’s donation has materialized relatively late. “It’s a bit like showing up at a potluck dinner party with the canapés when the guests are already into dessert,” Prof. Hampson said.
Alexandra Chyczij, president of the Ukrainian Canadian Congress, a lobby group, called the weapons shipment “a major policy shift” on Ottawa’s part, “which puts Canada side by side in a coalition of democracies that are steadfastly supporting the Ukrainian peoples’ right to defend their liberty.”
Russia’s embassy in Canada criticized the weapons transfer. “Russia reiterates its position that providing weapons or military expertise to the countries with unresolved internal military conflict on their territory is harmful and detrimental to the process of finding diplomatic and political solutions,” the embassy said in a statement.
“Instead we call on Canada and other Western governments with influence in Kiev to use that influence in pushing the Ukrainian authorities back to the negotiation table.”
Canada’s $500-million loan to Ukraine comes with conditions. “The loan cannot be used to purchase weapons. The purpose of the loan is financial stabilization,” Adrienne Vaupshas, press secretary to Deputy Prime Minister Chrystia Freeland, said in a statement.
The new assistance to Ukraine is on top of a $120-million loan announced last month and non-lethal equipment already delivered such as body armour, binoculars, laser rangefinders, metal detectors and spotting scopes.
Conflict in Ukraine could trigger a flood of refugees. Senior White House officials warned U.S. lawmakers earlier this month that a full invasion of Ukraine by Russia could result in one million to five million Ukrainian refugees.
Ukrainians have visa-free access to Europe and so could easily relocate there, but there are expectations the exodus could spread farther.
Ihor Michalchyshyn, executive director of the Ukrainian Canadian Congress, said his group has asked the federal government whether Canadians would be able to privately sponsor refugees from Ukraine if the need arises. It has written the Immigration Ministry asking for a meeting on this matter but has not received a response yet.
Immigration Minister Sean Fraser said Canada is bolstering the capacity of its immigration offices in western Ukraine should the need arise. “We are prepared for all eventualities and will be in a position to respond across government, including with our immigration policies should things worsen in Ukraine.”
Canada’s cyberspy agency last month warned of Moscow-backed cyberattacks on Canadian critical infrastructure as Western countries prepare economic sanctions in the growing expectation that Russia will invade Ukraine.
And on Monday, an intelligence watchdog group warned of significant gaps in the Canadian government’s cyberdefences. The National Security and Intelligence Committee of Parliamentarians said in a new report that it has identified “significant discrepancies” in how cyberdefence policies are applied.
“A large number of organizations, notably Crown corporations ... neither adhere to Treasury Board policies nor use the cyber defence framework,” NSICOP said. “The threat posed by these gaps is clear. The data of organizations not protected by the government cyber defence framework is at significant risk.” The group said unprotected organizations “potentially act as a weak link in the government’s defences.”
With reports from Michelle Carbert in Ottawa and Reuters
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