Liberals send troops to aid Ukraine, turbines that help Russia

Canada will resume its mission to train Ukrainian troops in their fight against Russia, Defence Minister Anita Anand announced Thursday, as the federal government continues to face criticism for returning turbines to Germany that will allow the flow of Russian natural gas to Europe.

Under Operation Unifier, Canadian troops trained more than 33,000 Ukrainian military and security personnel in that country from 2015 up until the start of the Russian invasion in February.

Anand announced Thursday that the training operation will resume on Aug. 25 in the United Kingdom, where up to 225 Canadian Armed Forces personnel will participate in a British-led initiative to train Ukrainian military recruits. The initiative will also include military trainers from the Netherlands and New Zealand.

“We have now entered a new and very dangerous phase of this conflict with (Russian President Vladimir) Putin engaging in protracted attempts to inflict long-term damage on Ukraine and its people,” Anand said. “Canada is committed to supporting Ukraine’s short-, medium-, and long-term defence needs.”

She said that when the operation was paused amid the Russian invasion in February, there was always a commitment to resume “whenever and wherever possible.”

The announcement came the same day as Foreign Affairs Minister Mélanie Joly and Natural Resources Minister Jonathan Wilkinson were grilled before a parliamentary committee over whether Canada circumvented sanctions on Russia by returning to Germany turbines that were being repaired here and that will allow Russian natural gas to flow to Europe. Anand’s announcement was brought up several times during the committee hearing.

Asked whether there was a “contradiction” between the training mission and the turbines issue, Anand said in French that “it’s a balance … We must continue to support Ukraine and at the same time show solidarity with our European allies.”

Aside from training, Canada has provided Ukraine hundreds of millions of dollars worth of lethal and non-lethal aid, including from its own military stockpiles, such as anti-tank weapons systems, hand grenades, and artillery guns.

Anand said the government has also procured equipment from Canadian companies including drone cameras and satellite imagery.

She said Thursday that an agreement had been reached with London, Ont.-based company General Dynamics Land Systems Canada that will see deliveries of armoured support vehicles to Ukraine beginning in the next few weeks.

The resumption of the training mission will benefit both sides, expert say, with new Ukrainian military recruits being taught critical skills, while the Canadian side will learn vital information about the Russians and 21st century warfare from Ukrainian senior officers.

“It’s a real win-win for us and the Ukrainians,” said Steve Saideman, director of the Canadian Defence and Security Network.

“They’ll provide us the lessons they’ve learned and we’ll be able to get more information and able to make our own military more effective.”

The Canadian-led courses in the U.K. will include training on front-line combat, weapons handling, first aid and the law of armed conflict. The Canadian military has a history of training other armed forces’ personnel, defence experts said.

“Training is something where Canada traditionally has expertise, so this is something that Canada has long done and done well, and what this also does is capitalize on the relationships we’ve already built with the Ukrainians,” said Christian Leuprecht, professor at Queen’s University and the Royal Military College of Canada.

A lot of the success and resilience seen in Ukraine can be chalked up to the training mission as it existed before the war, Leuprecht added.

“It really helped restructure the entire Ukrainian armed forces, everything from how you provide first aid, to how you plan, to how you keep your logistics line going,” he said. “This mission has been critical in getting Ukraine as far as it has.”

Only resuming the operation now, six months after the conflict began, is probably linked to needing to see how the war would first play out, he said, adding that the announcement “is a way to offset some of the negative press that Canada got as a result of the turbines.”

The timing of the announcement is likely linked to the amount of time it took to stand up the operation, argued retired Maj.-Gen. Denis Thompson, former commander of Canada’s Special Operation Forces and now a fellow at the Canadian Global Affairs Institute.

Highlighting the number of Ukrainians that Canada has already trained, Thompson said “clearly our contribution was well above of what people would normally expect from Canada given our size compared to the U.K. and U.S., and it’s had a dramatic impact on the battlefield.”

With files from Raisa Patel

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