Watch: Government is considering sending military trainers to Ukraine, Defence Minister Jason Kenney says.
OTTAWA — Canada’s offer to take on a “meaningful role” alongside the besieged Ukraine forces will not include putting Canadian boots on the front lines of that country’s ongoing battle with Russia, Defence Minister Jason Kenney said.
Canadian troops already deployed in Iraq were not expected to be on the front lines, but Canadians recently learned they were.
Still, Kenney insisted that would not be the case in Ukraine.
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Troops, including special operations personnel were deployed to northern Iraq in an effort to help the Kurdish forces stop the spread of ISIS, Kenney said.
“The Kurds are there on their front lines defending their civilians, their women and children, from this genocidal organization,” Kenney said. “So we have to be with them in training them, not at, but close, to those front lines.”
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On the other hand, the minister said, the U.S.-led training mission in Ukraine is taking place in the “far west” of the country —nowhere near the front lines, Kenney insisted.
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In August, Canada donated helmets, protective eyewear, first-aid kits, tents and sleeping bags to Ukrainian forces.
Three months later, the Canadian Forces began shipping more gear, including tactical communication systems, explosive ordinance disposal equipment, tactical medical kits, night vision goggles and winter clothing.
Now, Ottawa says it is prepared to share radar satellite imagery with Ukrainian authorities to help track enemy troop movements, Kenney said.
“This was the number one request made of Canada by Ukrainian President Poroshenko when he visited Ottawa last September,” kenney said.
Ahead of Sunday morning’s ceasefire, which began at one minute past midnight, Russian-backed separatists mounted a vicious assault Friday in eastern Ukraine, pummeling a strategic railway hub with wave upon wave of shelling in a last-minute grab for territory. At least 26 people were killed across the region, The Associated Press reported.
WATCH: As we watch to see whether the new ceasefire will hold, Tom Clark explains the situation in Ukraine – how we got here and what might happen next.
Even before the attacks, few observers, including Canadian authorities, expected the ceasefire to stick for a significant amount of time.
“We are skeptical about [Russian President] Vladimir Putin, based on his track record,” Kenney said. “He’s already violated multiple ceasefires.”
The tension in Ukraine is based mostly in the east, where many citizens speak Russian and look to Moscow for leadership.
Rebels in that area are fighting to become a part of Russia and have launched a full-scale war to get what they want. Against overwhelming evidence, Russia denies any involvement in the conflict.
The United Nations has said more than 5,000 people have died, and nearly one million have been left homeless.
Several Western nations have imposed sanctions against Russia, but they haven’t curbed the rebel advance.
Despite Sunday morning’s ceasefire, some are wondering whether the time has come to send arms to Ukraine, rather than technology and winter gear.
WATCH: Tom Clark hosts a discussion with Taras Zalusky from the Ukrainian Canadian Congress and Roland Paris from the University of Ottawa on whether Canada should send arms to Ukraine if the ceasefire fails
Canada’s move to send troops to the region is a good start, said Taras Zalusky, executive director of the Ukrainian Canadian Congress, but they want more.
“We know that Canada doesn’t have a lot to offer in the way of lethal weapons, but things like sniper rifles, things like some of the surveillance, some of the anti-tank and anti-aircraft,” Zalusky said.
“We don’t expect that Canada will be able to necessarily provide, but we’d look on the NATO allies, too, to help fill in there.”
Although Kenney has not committed to lethal aid, he did not rule it out, Roland Paris, director for international policy at the University of Ottawa noted.
Providing weapons, though, could have dire consequences, he said.
“The main challenge with lethal aid is that it has the potential to prompt Russia to escalate even further,” Paris said.
“Russia can out escalate the Ukrainian military, even with Western weapons. The result might be, of providing lethal air, might be simply to have a larger conflict with more advanced weapons, with more people being killed.”
With files from The Canadian Press and The Associated Press