Canada mulls more help for Ukraine

Min­is­ter hints at ways to ‘im­prove sup­port’ af­ter deadly fight­ing breaks out in east­ern re­gion

The Hamilton Spectator - - CANADA & WORLD - LEE BERTHI­AUME

De­fence Min­is­ter Har­jit Sa­j­jan says the fed­eral gov­ern­ment is con­cerned about a new out­break of fight­ing in Ukraine and is look­ing at ways to “im­prove” Canada’s mil­i­tary sup­port to the coun­try.

“I’m look­ing at the options right now in terms of how we can im­prove our sup­port, what changes that we need to make,” Sa­j­jan said Wed­nes­day.

“But one thing is for sure, that Canada re­mains com­mit­ted to Ukraine.”

Gov­ern­ment forces and Rus­sian­backed rebels have traded heavy fire in east­ern Ukraine over the last few days, killing at least 19 peo­ple and in­jur­ing dozens more.

The surge in vi­o­lence is threat­en­ing to over­turn a cease­fire in the three-year-old civil war that has been re­peat­edly bro­ken by both sides, but is still seen as the best chance for peace.

It also comes amid un­cer­tainty over U.S. in­ten­tions in the re­gion, in­clud­ing whether it will con­tinue to stand with Ukraine given Pres­i­dent Don­ald Trump’s com­ments about mend­ing re­la­tions with Rus­sia.

Canada first de­ployed about 200 troops to Ukraine in the sum­mer of 2015 to help train gov­ern­ment forces af­ter Rus­sia an­nexed Crimea and be­gan sup­port­ing sep­a­ratist forces in Ukraine’s Don­bass re­gion.

But the mis­sion is set to ex­pire at the end of March and the Lib­eral gov­ern­ment had been non-com­mit­tal on an ex­ten­sion de­spite pub­lic ap­peals from the Ukrainian gov­ern­ment.

Sa­j­jan’s com­ments, com­ing a few weeks af­ter the Bri­tish ex­tended their own train­ing mis­sion, are the strong­est in­di­ca­tion yet that Canada will main­tain, and may even ex­pand, its mil­i­tary pres­ence in Ukraine.

Con­ser­va­tive de­fence critic James Bezan said he hopes the Lib­eral gov­ern­ment not only ex­tends the cur­rent train­ing mis­sion, but ex­pands mil­i­tary sup­port in other ways.

That in­cludes pro­vid­ing mil­i­tary equip­ment to the Ukraini­ans and satel­lite im­agery, as the pre­vi­ous Con­ser­va­tive gov­ern­ment did.

“At some point in time we have to make a de­ci­sion that Ukraine needs our help,” Bezan said.

“They’re fight­ing a war against Rus­sian im­pe­ri­al­ism and if they fail, then it’s right on NATO’s doorstep. So they def­i­nitely need the sup­port and train­ing.”

Canada’s large and in­flu­en­tial Ukrainian com­mu­nity has also made it clear that it wants the gov­ern­ment con­tinue to pro­vide mil­i­tary as­sis­tance.

Sa­j­jan did not say when a de­ci­sion would be made on whether to ex­tend the mis­sion, though of­fi­cials say options have been drawn up by the mil­i­tary and will be pre­sented to cabi­net in the com­ing weeks.

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