Canada ‘looking at options’ over Ukraine’s requests for weapons, equipment

Click to play video: 'Exclusive: Canada deploying special forces to Ukraine as tensions with Russia escalate'
Exclusive: Canada deploying special forces to Ukraine as tensions with Russia escalate
WATCH: As tension rises over Russian troops amassing near Ukraine's border, Global News has learned Canada is now sending a small group of special forces to Ukraine. Mike Le Couteur explains what's behind the deployment – Jan 17, 2022

Canada’s foreign minister says the government is “looking at options” in response to Ukraine’s request for weapons and military equipment.

Speaking in Kyiv after a series of bilateral meetings, Global Affairs Minister Mélanie Joly said Ukrainian officials have repeatedly raised the issue of access to military equipment and weapons as tensions with Russia remain high.

“We’ve heard, loud and clear, the demands (from) the Ukrainian government,” Joly said at a joint press conference with Ukrainian foreign minister Dmytro Kuleba.

“We know that it is important to play our part in the context, and therefore we’re looking at options and we’ll take a decision in a timely manner.”

Click to play video: 'Canada stands ‘shoulder to shoulder’ with Ukraine, says Foreign Minister Joly amid tensions with Russia'
Canada stands ‘shoulder to shoulder’ with Ukraine, says Foreign Minister Joly amid tensions with Russia

Canada has been providing training and non-lethal equipment for Ukranian troops since 2014, when Russia invaded and annexed Crimea and began efforts to destabilize the eastern region of Ukraine, a former Soviet state.

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But Ottawa has yet to send weapons to the Ukrainian army, with Western countries concerned about escalating hostilities along the Ukraine-Russia border.

The latest on Ukraine-Russia tensions

Russian president, Vladimir Putin has shown less trepidation about escalation.

The Associated Press reported Tuesday that Russia is sending a contingent of troops from the country’s far east to Belarus to participate in “major war games.” The troop movement puts more Russian military assets near Ukraine, while the U.S. and NATO allies warn of a potential Russian invasion.

The Kremlin has denied any invasion plans. But recent events — including a significant cyber attack on Ukrainian government networks, and the collapse of diplomatic talks between Russia, the U.S. and European allies — suggest an armed conflict in the former Soviet state is possible.

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Last week, U.S. officials warned Russia may be planning “false-flag” operations — attacks or incidents perpetrated by one side but pinned on another — as a pretext for a full-scale invasion. On Tuesday, NATO Secretary General Jens Stoltenberg said the security alliance had information about a “significant Russian presence of intelligence operatives inside Ukraine,” according to media reports.

The U.S. and NATO allies have urged diplomacy and dialogue to stave off a Russian invasion, but on Tuesday the U.K. supplied Ukraine with anti-tank weapon systems. Meanwhile, Reuters reported that German Chancellor Olaf Scholz warned his country may cancel the Nord Stream 2 project — a controversial pipeline exporting Russian gas to Europe — should Russia invade.

Click to play video: 'White House says ‘consequences will be severe’ for Russia if they don’t take diplomatic path on Ukraine'
White House says ‘consequences will be severe’ for Russia if they don’t take diplomatic path on Ukraine

What’s behind the conflict?

A lot of history, to start. Ukraine became an independent state after the collapse of the Soviet Union, but the historical ties between Kyiv and Russia date back to the 9th century. Putin himself has written on the shared history of Ukraine and Russia, although the Russian president’s take has been disputed.

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In the present day, Putin has bristled against NATO eastward expansion into Ukraine. While it is not yet a member of the alliance, discussions about the country joining NATO date back to 2008. The Russian government is concerned Ukraine’s membership would put NATO forces and military assets on its doorstep.

The Kremlin has issued a series of demands to the U.S. and NATO allies they consider prerequisites for de-escalating the situation. While the military alliance has signalled it’s open to dialogue with Russia, one of Putin’s demands — that Ukraine be barred from joining NATO — appears to be a non-starter.

Talks between the parties ended last week. A senior Russian foreign official labeled them a “dead end.”

What’s Canada’s role in the conflict?

Successive Canadian governments have been vocal boosters of Ukraine since 2014 when Russia annexed Crimea. Canada also boasts a large and politically-influential Ukrainian diaspora.

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According to government figures, Canada has committed roughly $700 million in support of the government in Kyiv since 2014, and for years has sent rotations of 200 Canadian Armed Forces members to help train Ukrainian security forces under Operation UNIFIER.

The CAF operation is scheduled to end in March 2022, but the Canadian government has signaled an intention to extend the mission.

The Canadian government has also helped to equip Ukrainian security forces with communications systems, medical equipment and night vision goggles.

Ukrainian officials have indicated they’re hoping to get a wider range of military equipment.

Defence analyst David Perry said there are opportunities for the Canadian government to help.

“We don’t have some of those more sophisticated (weapon systems) … but certainly the Canadian Army’s got rifles and radios in the inventory,” Perry said in an interview.

“And so if a government really wanted to, it could help send some of those or look to buy them.”

What happens next?

All eyes will be on U.S. Secretary of State Antony Blinken, President Joe Biden’s chief diplomat, who is scheduled to meet with Russian Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov later this week. Before that meeting, Blinken will meet with officials in Kyiv and European leaders in Berlin.

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With intelligence suggestions that Russian operatives are already active within Ukraine, NATO is concerned tRussia could be staging an incident as a pretext for a wider invasion of Ukraine’s territory.

With Operation UNIFIER scheduled to end in March, the Canadian government will also have to decide about future troop rotations in Ukraine within a matter of weeks. Global News reported on Monday that a small contingent of Canadian special forces operators have been dispatched to Ukraine, to advise the government in Kyiv and help plan evacuation of Canadian diplomatic staff in the event of an invasion.

The fact the Canadian government is already planning potential evacuation plans suggests that while Ottawa is hoping for the best — a diplomatic solution and reduced tensions — they want a plan for the worst.

— with files from Global News’ wire services.

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