Canada considering joining U.S.-led military training mission in Ukraine

Defence Minister Jason Kenney answers a question during Question Period in the House of Commons in Ottawa on Tuesday, Feb. 24, 2015. The Canadian Press/Adrian Wyld

OTTAWA – The Harper cabinet is actively and seriously considering whether Canada should join the U.S. and Britain in a military training mission to shore up embattled Ukrainian troops, Defence Minister Jason Kenney said Wednesday.

The notion drew a lukewarm response from opposition parties, who seem reluctant to see Canada venture further into the tinderbox of eastern Europe beyond the delivery of non-lethal military aid and satellite intelligence.

Britain said Wednesday that it would send 75 military trainers to Ukraine next month to provide instruction and training in military intelligence, logistics and battlefield medical procedures.

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Kenney, who had already dropped broad hints of further Canadian involvement in concert with allies, said Canada is considering a similar commitment, with an emphasis on combat medical evacuation and trauma care.

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“That’s the kind of technical training that we can offer,” he said Wednesday. “We are in discussions and looking at options, and we’re open to – as I’ve been saying for two weeks now – open to participating in training missions.”

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Kenney would not, however, rule out combat training, saying he “cannot be more specific at this point.”

The U.S. has committed 800 troops to train three battalions in western Ukraine.

Canada’s defence department has made two deliveries of defensive military gear, including flak vests, helmets and cold-weather clothes. The Harper government recently concluded a deal to provide radar satellite images to the Ukrainians in order to track Russian troop movements in its border region.

Canadians would be uncomfortable going beyond that, suggested NDP Leader Tom Mulcair, who insisted such a military training mission should be carried out as part of an alliance and approved by the House of Commons.

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“If we are going to work towards anything different than what we’re doing now, which is non-kinetic flak jackets … we could send night vision goggles. That’s been agreed to and we’re onboard with that,” he said.

“Anything beyond that requires two things. One, concerted NATO action. Two, a decision by the Parliament of Canada.”

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Deploying the military is strictly the prerogative of the federal cabinet, but the Conservatives have made it their practice to put combat deployments to a vote in Parliament. The Afghan troop training mission and the initial positioning of special forces with Kurdish fighters in northern Iraq were not voted on by MPs.

Liberal Leader Justin Trudeau said he wants to see more details of the government’s proposal.

Kenney suggested military training, if approved, would be a logical extension of Canada’s involvement in NATO reassurance operations, which have included CF-18s flying Baltic air policing missions and the deployment of a frigate as part of the alliance’s standing naval task force.

“We’ll be doing more later this year in NATO exercises, all of which is designed to send a message to Russia that Canada, together with our NATO allies, stands with our eastern European friends against any intimidation or territorial aggression on the part of Vladimir Putin,” he said.

“And the message we’re sending to him with respect to Ukraine is to get out of Ukraine now.”

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