Canada’s Ukraine support questioned amid Russia standoff. Is it enough?

Click to play video: 'Ukraine’s national security chief urges more international military aid'
Ukraine’s national security chief urges more international military aid
WATCH: Ukraine's national security chief urges more international military aid – Jan 26, 2022

In a tweet sent just after midnight on Thursday, Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskyy thanked Canada for its latest offering of support amid its standoff with Russia.

Zelenskyy was “grateful” Ottawa decided to extend its military training mission, Operation Unifier, for three years, as well as provide non-lethal equipment, enhanced intelligence sharing and resources to defend against cyberattacks.

But is it enough to deter Russia from pursuing an armed conflict with Ukraine, like many western nations fear it will? Aurel Braun doesn’t think so.

“I want to emphasize that I would not be dismissive of the Canadian aid, but we have to contextualize – It doesn’t do what’s needed,” said Braun, a professor of international relations and political science at the University of Toronto.

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“We are doing considerably less than we are capable of doing, and we are at the 11th hour.”

Mykhailo Honchar, a Ukrainian expert on international energy and security relations, agrees.

“Canada has an opportunity to take a more active position … including with weapon supplies,” he told Global News’ Crystal Goomansingh in Kyiv on Thursday.

“We Ukrainians hope Canada will be more active in the context of political diplomatic support, including … preventive sanctions against Russia, not reactive.”

Mykhailo Honchar is a Ukrainian expert on international energy and security relations. He hopes the Canadian government reconsiders sending defensive weapons to Ukraine. Braden Latam/Global News

Tension has been building between Ukraine and Russia in recent weeks, stoking fears of an armed conflict between the two countries.

Canada, the United States and European allies have been scrambling to support Ukraine in the event of an armed conflict, while threatening to impose sanctions against Russia if it moves into the former Soviet state.

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Russia has denied it intends to launch an invasion, but western nations are unconvinced.

On Wednesday, Prime Minister Justin Trudeau announced Canada is extending Operation Unifier, and will be deploying 60 additional Canadian Forces members to join the roughly 200 others already on the ground training Ukraine’s security forces.

Click to play video: 'Russia ramps up more military strength along Ukraine’s border as diplomatic talks stall'
Russia ramps up more military strength along Ukraine’s border as diplomatic talks stall

Ottawa is also boosting both intelligence sharing and support to combat cyberattacks. But it is not fulfilling one of Ukraine’s top requests right now, which is for defensive weapons.

Trudeau said Canada will send non-lethal equipment like body armour, optics and scopes. He did not elaborate when asked to provide a clear answer as to why the government has decided not to send weapons right now.

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Andrew Rasiulis, a defence expert with the Canadian Global Affairs Institute, told Global News he feels Canada’s support to Ukraine is “very measured.”

“Everyone wants to prevent a conflict and the diplomatic path is currently in play, and that is everyone’s preferred option,” he said.

“It’s deterrence and dialogue, so the dialogue is on the diplomacy side, and deterrence is like Operation Unifier, where we are training Ukrainians to build up their defence force capabilities for self-defence. … Canada has put a very measured response, which puts the emphasis on diplomacy while not ignoring the deterrence side of the equation.”

Click to play video: 'Russia says U.S. response doesn’t address main security demands over Ukraine'
Russia says U.S. response doesn’t address main security demands over Ukraine

But to help further deter Russia from potentially invading Ukraine, Canada must use all the tools at its disposal, Braun said.

While fulfilling Ukraine’s request for Operation Unifier to be extended and economic supports are a good start, more can be done like sending defensive weapons, he added.

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“(Russian President) Vladimir Putin looks for soft targets …  every time he invaded anywhere, he calculated very carefully the risks were low of an all-out conflict, he calculated very carefully the gains were larger than the costs,” Braun said.

“We in Canada need to help divert that calculation, and we’re running out of time.”

Mixed responses

For weeks, western nations have been supporting Ukraine in anticipation of an armed conflict, while also pursuing a diplomatic solution with Moscow.

The United States and the United Kingdom have sent weapons and other military equipment to the region. Estonia, Latvia and Lithuania are also sending U.S.-made anti-tank and anti-aircraft missiles to Ukraine.

Denmark is sending a frigate and deploying F-16 warplanes to Lithuania, Spain is sending warships and could send fighter jets to Bulgaria, and France stands ready to send troops to Romania.

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But one European powerhouse – Germany – appears to be hesitant on sending weapons. The country recently sent 5,000 military helmets to Ukraine, which Kyiv’s mayor dismissed as “a joke” that left him “speechless.”

“The German government is agreed that we do not send lethal weapons to crisis areas because we don’t want to fuel the situation, we want to contribute in other ways,” said German Defence Minister Christine Lambrecht on Wednesday.

Experts told The Associated Press recently they believe Germany’s position is partly rooted in its inglorious history of aggression during the 20th century.

“There’s the obvious legacy of Germany’s own militarization in Europe during two world wars that has led many German leaders to view any military response as the last resort,” said Rachel Ellehuus, deputy director of the Europe, Russia and Eurasia program at the Washington-based Center for Strategic and International Studies.

Click to play video: 'How the Ukraine-Russia crisis is translating to Putin’s propaganda machine'
How the Ukraine-Russia crisis is translating to Putin’s propaganda machine

But that attitude could backfire, she added.

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“The current government does not seem to grasp that sending defensive weapons to Ukraine might actually deter further Russian aggression,” Ellehuus said.

German Foreign Minister Annalena Baerbock has said Berlin takes a dim view of Russia’s behavior.

The nation is willing to consider tougher steps if Russia acts against Ukraine, such as calling into question the future of the new Nord Stream 2 pipeline meant to bring much-needed natural gas to Germany from Russia.

Such a move against its biggest energy supplier could cost Germany, but officials believe that being a large customer of Russian gas can give it leverage, as Moscow won’t want to harm its reputation as a reliable supplier of gas, The Associated Press reported.

It might be unrealistic to think western nations will all be on the same page when it comes to addressing the Ukraine-Russia crisis, Rasiulis said.

“It’s actually perhaps preferable for the alliance to have some states like Germany, France and perhaps Canada now who are going to be the frontrunners on the diplomatic stage, and have some of the more hardline countries like the United States and Britain taking very tough stances, but also open and very much advocating diplomacy,” he said.

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“I think a mix is not a bad thing. It shows there are nuances and there’s room to reduce the tension a bit when there’s dialogue taking place and even if there’s a bit of nuance in opinions, it reflects the reality in fact.”

Braun suggests if Canada increases its supports to Ukraine, it could get Germany to do the same.

“We can set an example,” he said.

“We can show that Canada is acting responsibly.”

— with files from Reuters and The Associated Press

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