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Russian service members drive tanks during drills held by the armed forces of the Southern Military District at the Kadamovsky range in the Rostov region, Russia, on Feb. 3.SERGEY PIVOVAROV/Reuters

Ottawa is telling Canadians to immediately leave Ukraine in the anticipation of a Russian invasion.

A warning was issued Monday to Canadians who are registered with the department of Global Affairs, telling them to get out of the country on the first available flight and to avoid travel to Ukraine, a senior government official confirmed. The Globe and Mail is not identifying the source because they were not authorized to publicly discuss the matter.

The Global Affairs’ e-mail advisory, obtained by The Globe, warned that consular services could become severely limited and that Canadians should leave “while commercial means are available.”

“Russian military action in Ukraine could disrupt transportation routes and services throughout the country,” the advisory said. “Flights could be disrupted or cancelled on short notice, resulting in delayed departure. They could also become scarce, making it difficult for you to leave the country.”

Canadians who don’t leave Ukraine should be “prepared to shelter in place,” the advisory said, warning of disruptions in electricity, water, telecommunications, medical care and food supply.

“The situation is very volatile,” Global Affairs said, adding that Canadians who decide to stay in the country should monitor trustworthy news sources, keep up-to-date documents and have a personal security plan.

The United States has warned a Russian invasion could happen within days or weeks as Moscow has amassed 130,000 troops at the Ukrainian border and is conducting joint military manoeuvres with its ally Belarus.

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In late January, Canada ordered family members of diplomatic staff stationed in Ukraine to leave the country, a day after the United States, Britain, Germany and Australia announced similar steps.

Fen Hampson, Chancellor’s Professor at Carleton University, said Monday’s advisory is clearly based on sound intelligence, likely from the Americans, and Ottawa wants to make sure Canadians know it can’t help them if Russian troops cross into Ukraine.

“It’s also a warning that if you suddenly found yourself in dire circumstances in the middle of an invasion, our government is not going to be able to do anything to help you,” he said. “Evacuation is going to be extremely difficult because you have the Russian fleet in the Black Sea so you are not going to get people out of there and there will be no flights.”

The larger question is whether a Russian invasion would create a massive Ukrainian refugee crisis that would challenge Canada’s immigration response, given that Canada is home to 1.4 million Ukrainian-Canadians.

“A lot of Ukrainians will be fleeing the country and a lot of them have family members in Canada so are we ready for this?” Prof. Hampson said.

Ihor Michalchyshyn, executive director of the Ukrainian Canadian Congress, said the community has raised “significant money in the past two weeks” in the event Ukraine is invaded, and there is a refugee crisis.

Mr. Michalchyshyn said Global Affairs sent a similar message on Feb. 1 to registered Canadians. At the time there were only 600 Canadians registered although he said it is believed there are several thousand in the country.

Ottawa has not talked to him about any contingency plans to handle Ukrainian refugees, he said.

“We call that the nightmare scenario,” he said. “We are trying to convince the Canadian government to send defensive weapons because we think this kind of invasion is likely and near.”

Mr. Michalchyshyn said Canada needs to provide defensive weapons immediately, saying most Ukrainians will stay to fight the Russians even if the Russians win the war.

Canada has extended its soldier-training mission in Ukraine for three years and is supplying non-lethal equipment, but it has not provide any defensive weapons.

The government had considered supply small arms but cabinet was split over providing any type of defensive weapons.

The Globe reported last week the dispute centred on the fact that Germany and other European countries have not supplied lethal weapons, although a senior Canadian source said the matter remains under active consideration. The Globe is not identifying the source because they are not authorized to discuss cabinet deliberations.

Western leaders, along with Prime Minister Justin Trudeau, have warned of crippling economic sanctions if Russia goes to war.

After meeting with German Chancellor Olaf Scholz at the White House Monday, U.S. President Joe Biden said the Nord Stream 2 gas pipeline to Europe would be halted if Russia invades Ukraine.

Mr. Scholz said the U.S and Germany had the same approach to Ukraine, to Russia and to sanctions, but he did not directly confirm the Nord Stream 2 plans or mention the pipeline publicly by name over the course of his day-long visit.

Whether the United States and Germany are on the same page over the US$11-billion project has become a crucial question as the two major democracies lead NATO allies in pushback against Moscow.

“We will be united. We will act together. And we will take all the necessary steps,” Mr. Scholz said in English.

Even before the pipeline starts flowing, Germany uses Russian gas to cover half its needs. It delayed approval of the Nord Stream 2 pipeline until at least the second half of 2022, but has refused to cancel the nearly completed project.

In Moscow, French President Emmanuel Macron met with Vladimir Putin at the Kremlin and told the Russian leader that he should avoid a war and work toward building trust with the West.

With a report from Reuters

Thousands of Ukrainian civilians and reservists have been learning basic combat skills to defend their country should Russia invade. The effort aims to build up local forces that can help the regular military but the Ukrainian government has downplayed talk of a Russian invasion.

The Globe and Mail

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