Skip to main content

UNIFIER officers listen to Defence Minister Anita Anand at a press conference at the Canadian embassy in Kyiv, Ukraine, Jan. 30, 2022.ANTON SKYBA/The Globe and Mail

Defence Minister Anita Anand says all Canadian troops stationed in Ukraine have been moved west of the country’s Dnieper River as worries about a possible Russian invasion continue to grow.

Prime Minister Justin Trudeau said last week that the 200 soldiers in the Operation Unifier mission were now “focused all in western Ukraine where the risks are lowest.” But Ms. Anand’s comments on Sunday represented the most specific information about how Canada’s military posture has changed. Operation Unifier previously saw military trainers sent to nearly all regions of Ukraine.

On Sunday, the U.S. called an emergency meeting of the United Nations Security Council for Monday to discuss “Russia’s threatening behaviour against Ukraine.” Meanwhile, British Foreign Secretary Liz Truss said her county would introduce legislation that would allow Britain to target “oligarchs close to the Kremlin” with economic sanctions.

Ms. Anand, who is on a hastily arranged two-day visit to Kyiv, was speaking less than 48 hours after Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky criticized Western governments and media for overemphasizing the possibility of a Russian invasion. Mr. Zelensky said the war talk was creating “panic” that was damaging his country’s economy.

Mr. Zelensky also criticized the decision of some Western embassies, including Canada’s, to withdraw diplomatic staff from Kyiv. On Sunday, Global Affairs Canada said that in addition to family members of Ukraine-based diplomats – who had already been ordered to leave – “non-essential” diplomats were now also being withdrawn from Ukraine.

However, Global Affairs said in a statement that the embassy in Kyiv would also be receiving some additional staff “with expertise in areas such as security sector reform, conflict management, democratic reform, consular services and diplomacy. Together, they will increase our diplomatic capacity and allow us to continue to assess and respond to the evolving situation in support of Ukraine.”

Ukrainian reservists’ ranks grow in Kharkiv as city fears fight on nearby Russian border

Ukraine plans to employ sleeper agents behind Russian lines if Moscow invades

Russia, which has around 130,000 troops deployed on three sides of Ukraine, says it has no plan to attack its neighbour. However, Russian President Vladimir Putin has warned his country could take “military-technical” steps unless it receives a guarantee that Ukraine will never join the North Atlantic Treaty Organization, a demand that has now been formally rejected by the West.

The U.S ambassador to the United Nations vowed to press Russia hard in a session of the Security Council on Monday over Moscow’s massive build-up of troops near Ukraine.

“Our voices are unified in calling for the Russians to explain themselves,” Linda Thomas-Greenfield said of the U.S. and the other council members. “We’re going into the room prepared to listen to them, but we’re not going to be distracted by their propaganda.”

The chairman of the U.S. Senate Foreign Relations Committee, Senator Bob Menendez, said Sunday that in the event of an attack, lawmakers want Russia to face “the mother of all sanctions.” That includes actions against Russian banks that could severely undermine the Russian economy.

Many GOP members are pushing for the U.S. to impose tough penalties immediately instead of waiting for Russia to send new troops into Ukraine. The Biden administration and many Democratic lawmakers argue that imposing sanctions now against Mr. Putin would remove any deterrent to invasion.

Ms. Anand said that, for security reasons, she couldn’t discuss why or when the decision had been made to pull all Canadian troops west of the Dnieper, which roughly bisects Ukraine – and the capital city of Kyiv – in two. But her comments line up with the assessments of some Western military analysts, who believe any Russian attack could focus on capturing the territory east of the Dnieper, where much of the population speaks Russian as a first language.

“It’s generally well-known to be the case that there is Russian aggression at the Ukrainian border and in Belarus, and we are acting accordingly,” Ms. Anand told a press conference in Kyiv following her meeting with Lieutenant-Colonel Luc-Frédéric Gilbert, the head of Operation Unifier.

“We will continue to take all precautions necessary to keep our Canadian Armed Forces safe and secure,” she said.

Russia military build-up around Ukraine

Around 130,000 Russian troops –equipped with everything

from tanks and artillery to ammunition and air power – are

now surrounding Ukraine on all sides, but Moscow denies

it is planning an invasion

Russian

troops

Four NATO

multinational

battlegroups:

5,000 troops

ESTONIA

25,000

Baltic

Sea

5,000

Adazi

1,000

LATVIA

Moscow

Tanks

LITH.

RUSSIA

Armoured

vehicles

Rukla

BELARUS

Yelnya

Artillery

Other

military

or air

Orzysz

POLAND

4,000 U.S.

troops

stationed

Brest

Pogonovo

Donbas:

Territory

controlled by

pro-Russian

separatists

Kyiv

Volgograd

UKRAINE

ROMANIA

Donetsk

Rostov

Craiova: NATO’s

multinational

brigade 5,000

troops

Korenovsk

Sevastopol:

Russian

Black Sea

Fleet HQ

200km

Crimea:

Annexed by

Russia in 2014

graphic news, Sources: Janes; NATO, Reuters;

The New York Times; Rochan Consulting

Russia military build-up around Ukraine

Around 130,000 Russian troops –equipped with everything

from tanks and artillery to ammunition and air power – are

now surrounding Ukraine on all sides, but Moscow denies

it is planning an invasion

Russian

troops

Four NATO

multinational

battlegroups:

5,000 troops

ESTONIA

25,000

Baltic

Sea

5,000

Adazi

1,000

LATVIA

Moscow

Tanks

LITH.

RUSSIA

Armoured

vehicles

Rukla

BELARUS

Artillery

Other

military

or air

Orzysz

POLAND

4,000 U.S.

troops

stationed

Brest

Pogonovo

Donbas:

Territory

controlled by

pro-Russian

separatists

Kyiv

UKRAINE

Volgograd

ROMANIA

Donetsk

Rostov

Craiova: NATO’s

multinational

brigade 5,000

troops

Korenovsk

Sevastopol:

Russian

Black Sea

Fleet HQ

200km

Crimea:

Annexed by

Russia in 2014

graphic news, Sources: Janes; NATO, Reuters;

The New York Times; Rochan Consulting

Russia military build-up around Ukraine

Around 130,000 Russian troops – equipped with everything from tanks and artillery to ammunition and

air power – are now surrounding Ukraine on all sides, but Moscow denies it is planning an invasion

Russian troops

Tapa

Tallinn

25,000

Four NATO multinational

battlegroups: 5,000 troops

ESTONIA

5,000

1,000

Adazi

Tanks

Riga

Baltic

Sea

LATVIA

Armoured

vehicles

RUSSIA

Moscow

LITHUANIA

Artillery

Rukla

Other military

or air instal-

lations

BELARUS

Vilnius

RUS.

Yelnya

Minsk

Klintsy

Orzysz

Asipovicny

Baranovichi

Pochep

Rechytsa

Warsaw

Marshala Zhukova

Brest

POLAND

4,000 U.S.

troops

stationed

Pogonovo

Soloti

Dnieper

River

Kyiv

Boguchar

Transnistria:

Russian-backed

breakaway region

of Moldova

Donbas:

Territory

controlled by

pro-Russian

separatists

Luhansk

Volgograd

UKRAINE

Donetsk

Persianovskiy

Tiraspol

ROMANIA

Rostov

Craiova: NATO’s

multinational brigade

5,000 troops

Korenovsk

Bucharest

Sevastopol:

Russian

Black Sea

Fleet HQ

200km

Crimea:

Annexed by

Russia in 2014

BULGARIA

Black Sea

GEORGIA

graphic news, Sources: Janes, NATO, Reuters, The New York Times, Rochan Consulting

While Operation Unifier is headquartered near the western Ukrainian city of Lviv, hundreds of kilometres from the Russian border, Canadian trainers have routinely conducted training sessions in other cities around Ukraine such as Kharkiv, less than 50 kilometres from the frontier.

Operation Unifier began in 2015, shortly after Russia seized and annexed the Crimean Peninsula. Mr. Trudeau announced on Wednesday that the mission would be extended and expanded – with another 60 soldiers expected to arrive in the days and weeks ahead – amid rising concern that Mr. Putin could soon order a deeper invasion of Ukraine than in 2015. Mr. Trudeau said the mission could eventually double in size to 400 trainers.

Mr. Trudeau has indicated that all Canadian troops would leave Ukraine in the event of a full-scale Russian invasion.

More than 30,000 Ukrainian troops have received training under Operation Unifier, and this weekend some of the recipients of that training were passing on what they learned to reservists preparing to defend their cities in the case of attack.

Canada is also shipping non-lethal equipment such as body armour and sniper night scopes to the Ukrainian military, though the Liberal government has thus far resisted calls to send lethal equipment to Ukraine, as allies including the United States and Britain are now doing. Ms. Anand, who will almost certainly be asked about it when she meets on Monday with her Ukrainian counterpart Oleksii Reznikov, said “the issue is not off the table.”

“This is a decision made not by me alone, by our government, and we will continue to monitor the evolving, fluid and very concerning situation, and make decisions accordingly,” she said.

Asked about the discrepancy between the messaging from the Biden administration – which has repeatedly warned that a Russian attack on Ukraine could be “imminent” – and Mr. Zelensky’s calls for calm, Ms. Anand said there was “sound” intelligence regarding the scale of Russia’s military build-up.

“We are acting on the basis of that information,” she said.

“We believe that Russia has a choice – and that choice is to negotiate, with a view to de-escalation, and in the face of non-de-escalation, Russia will face severe sanctions and consequences,” she added.

On Sunday, a crowd of several hundred Ukrainian activists gathered on Kyiv’s central square to thank Canada and other countries that have sent support to Ukraine during the current crisis.

“We cannot stand against Russia without support from out international partners,” said Serhiy Kudin, a 40-year-old entrepreneur who stood on the square holding a sign that said “Thank you” over the Ukrainian and Canadian flags. “Of course, more weapons would be great – but everything is important.”

Natalia Pokotylo, a 51-year-old businesswoman with relatives in Canada, said she came to the rally in part to apologize for Mr. Zelensky’s criticisms of Western governments. “Our President lives in a different world. His position is not the position of the people.”

With reports from The Associated Press and Reuters

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.