Prime Minister Justin Trudeau isn’t ruling out sending Canada’s German-made battle tanks to Ukraine, saying Ottawa would consider such a request from Kyiv.
Speaking to reporters in Saskatoon on Monday, Mr. Trudeau was asked if he would donate Leopard 2 tanks to Ukraine in the event Germany dropped its objections to the re-export of military weapons it manufactured.
Germany has resisted such a move so far, saying Western tanks should only be supplied to Ukraine if there is agreement among Kyiv’s main allies, particularly the United States.
“Right from the start we’ve made it clear we’re here to support Ukraine against the illegal and brutal invasion by Russia,” Mr. Trudeau said.
“We’ve sent a huge slew of different types of weapons, including an air-defence system. We will look at all the requests from Ukraine but we’re not there yet for the Leopard 2 tanks,” he said.
Summing up, he said: “We’re here to provide Ukraine what it needs so they can beat Russia.”
Ukraine says it needs several hundred NATO-standard heavy tanks to push invading Russian troops off its territory and bring an end to the nearly 11-month-old war. German Chancellor Olaf Scholz, however, has thus far resisted pressure to allow the re-export of the German-made Leopards, fearing that providing NATO tanks to Ukraine could escalate the conflict.
As The Globe and Mail reported Monday, Mykhailo Podolyak, a top adviser to Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky, said Mr. Zelensky will make the request to Mr. Trudeau if Berlin gives the green light.
Canada has more than 90 Leopard 2 tanks. The Canadian Army’s Leopard 2 fleet is primarily based at three locations: CFB Edmonton, CFB Gagetown and at the Army Equipment Fielding Centre in Montreal.
German Defence Minister Christine Lambrecht resigned on Monday as her government came under rising pressure to let allies send Ukraine heavy tanks, at the start of what is likely to be a pivotal week for Western plans to further arm Kyiv.
Britain on Monday urged Germany to permit the supply of Leopard tanks to Ukraine, stressing that it could unlock support from other countries and Berlin would not be acting alone if it supplied its own tanks.
“It has been reported that obviously Poland is very keen to donate some Leopards, as is Finland,” British defence minister Ben Wallace told Parliament.
“All of this currently relies on the German government’s decisions – not only whether the Germans will supply their own Leopards, but whether or not they’ll give permissions to others. I would urge my German colleagues to do that.”
Last week, Canada announced it would spend more than $400-million to buy Ukraine a U.S.-made National Advanced Surface-to-Air Missile System (NASAMS) and an unspecified number of missiles. A NASAMS is a short- to medium-range, ground-based air-defence system that protects against drone, missile and aircraft attack.
Ihor Michalchyshyn, chief executive of the Ukrainian Canadian Congress, an advocacy group for Canadians of Ukrainian heritage, urged Canada to supply the tanks, adding they are grateful for all of Ottawa’s support so far.
“Russia is committing genocide in Ukraine – and the Ukrainian Armed Forces must be supported with the means to liberate Ukrainian territory from Russian occupation. The Ukrainian Armed Forces require more weaponry and materiel from partner countries.”
Mr. Trudeau was in Saskatoon Monday to tout a recent federal investment in critical minerals that helps Canadian companies such as Vital Metals Inc., a rare earths producer.
He was criticized by Saskatchewan Premier Scott Moe, who released a statement saying he was disappointed nobody from Ottawa informed him Mr. Trudeau would be visiting the rare earths elements processing plant.
“It’s disappointing because this is an area that the provincial and federal governments see eye-to-eye on, yet we were not aware of the Prime Minister’s visit. Saskatchewan has been advocating for increased investment in this area, and we hope that the Prime Minister will have positive news today – and into the future – on our applications before Natural Resources Canada.”
The Premier continued: “It’s also not surprising that one of the Prime Minister’s first visits following his meetings with the American and Mexican presidents is to a Saskatchewan facility, as our province is a global leader in critical minerals and rare earth elements.”
- With reports from The Globe’s Mark MacKinnon and Reuters