Canada considers Ukraine mission
Defence minister downplays prospect of a concrete pledge at UN conference next week
OTTAWA— Canada is weighing a peacekeeping proposal from Ukraine’s government that would “respect Ukraine’s original borders” and opposes a Russian counterproposal that would “freeze” its incursion on Ukraine territory, Defence Minister Harjit Sajjan says.
However Sajjan, like Prime Minister Justin Trudeau in September, would not say whether the Liberal government is ready to engage in any such peacekeeping operation in a volatile region where he said Ottawa’s goal is to de-escalate tensions.
Conservative Party Leader Andrew Scheer threw his party’s support behind Ukraine’s proposal, saying a future Conservative government would advocate and lead a UN peacekeeping mission in eastern Ukraine. He urged the Liberal government to act. “This mission would allow Ukraine to restore control over its eastern border with Russia, ensuring the Russian military stays within its own country and out of Ukraine.”
Under Stephen Harper, the Conservatives were not fans of UN peacekeeping missions, yet were staunch supporters of Ukraine against Russia’s annexation of Crimea.
However, Sajjan and Foreign Affairs Minister Chrystia Freeland say the Conservatives are late to the game. Sajjan said he was glad the Official Opposition was now “on board” with a discussion the Liberal government has been having with Ukraine since 2015.
Freeland claimed the Liberal gov- ernment “has been at the heart of international efforts to support Ukraine and we are working hard to ensure any peacekeeping effort guarantees Ukraine’s sovereignty and territorial integrity.” She cited discussions Trudeau has had with Petro Poroshenko, the president of Ukraine, and with German Chancellor Angela Merkel.
“I have personally explored the feasibility and prospects of such a mission with the president and the prime minister of Ukraine, with the U.S. secretary of state (Rex Tillerson), with U.S. Special Envoy Kurt Volker, and with the UN Secretary General last week.” Freeland said she’d spoken to several European governments as well.
Canada’s commitment to regional security in Eastern Europe is further demonstrated by its leadership of a NATO battle group in Latvia, she and Sajjan said.
Yet Sajjan continued to downplay any prospect of Canada offering any kind of concrete pledge at a major United Nations peacekeeping conference he is hosting next week in Vancouver.
More than two years ago, the Liberal government said it would deploy up to 600 Canadian Armed Forces personnel and 150 police officers for future UN peace operations. However, Trudeau’s cabinet has still not announced where those resources will be sent.
In September, the Star broke the story that no peacekeeping pledge would be made in advance of the conference.
NDP defence critic Randall Garri- son said Thursday “it’s unacceptable” that Ottawa is dithering over its pledge and refusing to announce its intention before the Vancouver meeting.
But Sajjan defended that decision, telling reporters he wants the Vancouver conference to be about more than just troop numbers and commitments.
More than 500 delegates from more than 80 countries and international organizations are expected to attend the conference. It is organized around four themes — “smart pledges, innovation in training and capacity building, protecting those at risk, early warning and rapid deployment” — and with no concrete commitment from Canada, could well highlight the government’s footdragging more than anything else.
The Trudeau government is considering a request by Ukraine to send peacekeepers to the region.