Skip to main content

Op UNIFIER officer delivers tactical medicine training in Stare, Ukraine, on Jan. 18.ANTON SKYBA/The Globe and Mail

The Canadian government says it’s sending as many as 225 soldiers to help train Ukrainian army recruits for war with Russia, an escalation of Ottawa’s commitment even as a dispute with Kyiv over repairing Russian turbines was on full display on Parliament Hill Thursday.

Defence Minister Anita Anand announced the training mission – which will take place in the United Kingdom – just hours before a Parliamentary committee met to hear testimony about Prime Minister Justin Trudeau’s July decision to circumvent sanctions and allow the import, repair and re-export of Russian turbines while Moscow is still at war with Ukraine.

Ms. Anand said the deployment is a continuation of the Canadian Forces’ Operation UNIFIER mission that has provided soldiering instructions to Ukrainian soldiers since 2015. The mission was suspended after Russia’s Feb. 24 military assault on Ukraine, but the Canadian government provided extra funding for continuing it in its 2022 budget.

In this UNIFIER mission, Canada is training Ukrainian Armed Forces soldiers heading into a conflict where deaths are high on both sides. Central Intelligence Agency director William Burns said last month the U.S. estimates about 15,000 Russians have been killed and perhaps 45,000 wounded.

Ukraine expresses ‘deep disappointment’ as Canada sends back six Russian turbines to Germany

David Perry, president of the Canadian Global Affairs Institute, said the new UNIFIER deployment deepens Ottawa’s commitment. “It’s escalating our involvement, but in proportion to the conflict, which the Russians escalated massively Feb. 24,” he said.

About 90 Canadian soldiers from 3rd Battalion Princess Patricia’s Canadian Light Infantry in Edmonton will head to southeast England next week. They will teach front line combat, including weapons handling, battlefield first aid, fieldcraft and patrol tactics.

Ukraine opposes Mr. Trudeau’s decision to allow the import, repair and export of the turbines. He was persuaded to do this by the German government after Moscow said natural gas shipments to Germany dropped significantly because a turbine is stranded in Montreal.

Germany is coping with an energy crisis, and the decision has been supported by United States, among others, although Ukraine says it weakens sanctions.

Natural Resources Minister Jonathan Wilkinson told the House of Commons foreign affairs committee it was important to avoid a trap set by Russian President Vladimir Putin to divide allies.

The turbine is one of many the Nord Stream 1 pipeline, majority owned by Kremlin-controlled gas producer Gazprom, uses to compress natural gas as it flows from Russia under the Baltic Sea to Germany. It’s running at 20-per-cent capacity. About 25 per cent of Germany’s energy supplies come from natural gas, but the country is taking steps to reduce its reliance on Russian petroleum.

Russia reduced gas shipments in June, blaming the missing turbines. The equipment was serviced by Siemens Energy in Montreal, but was stuck there because of the sanctions.

Foreign Affairs Minister Mélanie Joly told the committee Germany pleaded with Canada to agree that the turbine could be returned, saying it would remove Russia’s pretext for cutting natural gas shipments.

Yulia Kovaliv, Ukraine’s ambassador to Canada, said it has been clear for some time that Moscow uses energy as a weapon.

The first Nord Stream 1 turbine released from Canadian export controls is now in Germany. Russia has been putting up roadblocks to its return – prompting critics in Canada to question why Ottawa released it.

“There was no need to waive sanctions to call Putin’s bluff,” Ms. Kovaliv told MPs. “You could just Google: the logic of appeasement already failed to prevent this war.”

The arrangement would permit the import, repair and re-export of five more Russian turbines.

Ms. Kovaliv urged Ottawa to cancel the permit. “If the reason for the waiver was to not allow Russia to blame sanctions for the disruption of gas supply, it’s now more than clear that [the] additional five turbines … will be turned by Russia into additional tools of humiliation,” she said. “We urge you: Do not take the bait.”

Sabine Sparwasser, Germany’s ambassador to Canada, told the committee Berlin is grateful that Canada freed the turbines. “Sanctions are a very blunt instrument,” she said. “When states impose economic costs on another country, they often inflict unintended consequences on third parties.”

She said waivers allow countries to sharpen their sanctions regimes.

The German envoy noted the European Union recently waived some sanctions to help open up Ukrainian food exports and to “take away Russia’s pretext that the Western sanctions are to blame for the global food crisis.”

Alexandra Chyczij, president of the Ukrainian Canadian Congress, which represents Canadians of Ukrainian origin, told MPs the destruction and death in Russia’s war on Ukraine “is a horror on the scale not seen in Europe since” the Second World War.

She said “it’s absolutely clear that Russia has contrived the Nord Stream 1 incident to test the resolve” of Canada and its allies. “Thus far, we have failed that test.”

Mr. Wilkinson was asked why Canada has not built up an export capacity for liquefied natural gas so this country can help Germany wean itself off Russian petroleum.

He said proponents of LNG export projects on Canada’s East Coast have not made final investment decisions. “The private sector needs to bring capital to the table to ensure they can actually put it to work.”

Our Morning Update and Evening Update newsletters are written by Globe editors, giving you a concise summary of the day’s most important headlines. Sign up today.