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Canada’s Foreign Minister, Mélanie Joly, visits the international training centre of the Ukrainian National Guard outside Kyiv on Jan 18.ANTON SKYBA/The Globe and Mail

Ukraine has asked Canada to follow Britain’s lead and rush military supplies to its army as it faces the growing possibility of a Russian invasion.

In an interview with The Globe and Mail, Ukrainian Deputy Prime Minister Olga Stefanishyna said she had asked visiting Foreign Affairs Minister Mélanie Joly to provide lethal and non-lethal military gear. Ms. Stefanishyna said the gear was “essential” as Russia continued to accumulate forces on its border with Ukraine.

Ms. Stefanishyna said she also hoped Canada, the United States and the European Union would impose pre-emptive economic sanctions on Russia as a way of raising the costs of any military action being contemplated by President Vladimir Putin.

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Ms. Joly said she had heard the Ukrainian government’s requests for urgent help “loud and clear” and would take that message back to Ottawa.

“Many of the officials here have reiterated this demand. We know that it is important to play our part. … Therefore we are looking at options and will take a decision in a timely manner,” she told a joint news conference Tuesday with Ukrainian Foreign Affairs Minister Dmytro Kuleba.

Ms. Joly later gave a briefing to Prime Minister Justin Trudeau, Deputy Prime Minister Chrystia Freeland, Defence Minister Anita Anand and General Wayne Eyre, Chief of the Defence Staff.

A statement from Mr. Trudeau’s office said the ministers discussed how Canada can help Ukraine.

“They reaffirmed Canada’s steadfast support for the sovereignty and territorial integrity of Ukraine, and considered current and future assistance to Ukraine,” the statement said. “Prime Minister Trudeau emphasized that any further military incursion into Ukraine would have serious consequences, including coordinated sanctions.”

The fear of war, meanwhile, continued to mount. Ms. Stefanishyna said hopes for a peaceful resolution to the crisis had taken another blow when Russia began evacuating staff from its diplomatic missions in Ukraine.

“We’re preparing for the military scenario,” she said. “Russian diplomats, who had been still residing in Ukraine, in the consular departments in Kyiv and Lviv, have left the territory of Ukraine under a special directive from the Ministry of Foreign Affairs of Russian Federation – which does not serve to [create] any additional confidence to the adherence of Russia to proceed with any political or diplomatic negotiations.”

Maria Zakharova, a spokeswoman for Russia’s Foreign Affairs Ministry, said Russia’s embassy and consulates in Ukraine were “operating normally” and that reports of staff being evacuated were part of an information campaign being waged by Ukrainian special services.

Russia has threatened “military-technical measures” unless it receives a legally binding guarantee that Ukraine, which Mr. Putin views as part of his country’s “sphere of influence,” will never be allowed to join the U.S.-led North Atlantic Treaty Organization – an assurance NATO says it will not give. Three rounds of talks between Russian and Western officials last week failed to produce any kind of agreement that would ease tensions.

U.S. Secretary of State Antony Blinken was on his way to Kyiv on Tuesday on a hastily arranged trip. He will meet with President Volodymyr Zelensky here Wednesday before travelling to Geneva for a Friday meeting with Russian Foreign Affairs Minister Sergey Lavrov in what would be the highest-level talks since the crisis began.

“We’re now at a stage where Russia could at any point launch an attack in Ukraine. And what Secretary Blinken is going to go do is highlight very clearly there is a diplomatic path forward,” White House press secretary Jen Psaki told reporters in Washington.

Ms. Joly and Ambassador Laryssa Galadza discuss the necessity of Canada's support in Stare International Training Center, on Jan. 18, 2022.ANTON SKYBA/The Globe and Mail

Mr. Blinken is due to also visit Berlin, where he will meet with his German, French and British counterparts to discuss a joint response to any new Russian aggression. Ms. Joly will also visit Paris, as well as NATO headquarters in Brussels, during her trip.

Ukrainian and U.S. officials say there are more than 100,000 Russian troops stationed within a short drive of Russia’s long frontier with the east of Ukraine, as well as naval assets that threaten the country’s southern ports. Videos posted on social media suggest large numbers of troops, tanks and artillery have continued to arrive in recent days, with Russia also deploying forces into Belarus, a close ally of Moscow that borders Ukraine to the north.

Ukraine has made previous requests for military assistance during the months-long buildup – and Ottawa has promised to consider them – but Kyiv’s new push for Canadian military help came on the heels of Britain stepping forward to make rush deliveries of short-range anti-tank missiles, purchased with a £2-billion loan from the British government. At least five Royal Air Force flights landed in Kyiv in the 24 hours after the British government announced the support on Monday.

Ms. Stefanishyna said Canada – which has a 200-soldier training mission in Ukraine – is often regarded as her country’s closest ally in the international community, adding that she hoped Ottawa would follow Britain’s lead. Though she said she didn’t want to get into the specifics of the kind of equipment Ukraine was seeking, Defence Minister Oleksii Reznikov told The Globe last month that Ukraine’s military was in particular need of anti-aircraft equipment to counter Russia’s formidable air force.

Ms. Stefanishyna said she hoped NATO countries would find a way to send Ukraine some of the military gear that had previously been deployed to Afghanistan, which NATO withdrew from last year after a 20-year occupation.

But after a meeting last week with NATO Secretary-General Jens Stoltenberg, she said it’s now clear the alliance won’t collectively act to aid the Ukrainian military – meaning bilateral deals such as the one with Britain were crucial. She said there was a divide within NATO about supporting Ukraine, with some European countries worried about irritating Moscow.

“There’s not a big, but a significant amount, of countries who do not want to proceed with bilateral assistance,” she said. “From some countries still we hear the message that nobody wants to irritate Russia by proceeding with bilateral military assistance to Ukraine – although it’s kind of complicated to imagine how more can Russia be irritated and aggressive than it is.”

Russia has occupied the strategic Crimean Peninsula since 2014, after a pro-Western revolution in Kyiv that Mr. Putin regards as a Western-backed coup d’état. Moscow also supports a militia that controls part of the southeastern Donbas region of Ukraine. More than 14,000 people have died in eight years of fighting there.

Ms. Stefanishyna said she believed Mr. Putin would not back down soon and would continue using his country’s military to back his threats and ultimatums. “As long as he has the gun at our heads, he is sitting at the table of dialogue. As soon as he withdraws his troops, nobody wants to hear or listen to him.”

With a report from Robert Fife

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