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.

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