Canada’s Defense Minister in Ukraine amid growing tensions with Russia
Defense Minister Anita Anand arrived in snow-covered Kiev on Sunday and echoed warnings from Western allies of the imminent threat of a Russian invasion amid an increasingly frosty international standoff over the crisis in Europe. ballast.
The Ukrainian government has signaled that military action by Moscow is not imminent and that Western allies must reverse the alarmist rhetoric.
The country’s President Volodymyr Zelensky tried to boost the morale of his people on Friday, and Foreign Minister Dmytro Kuleba was quoted in a statement on Saturday calling on the West to remain “vigilant and firm in its contacts with the Russian side,” but also asking them to “refrain from actions that could fuel anxiety” in Ukrainian society and “damage the financial stability” of the country.
US Secretary of Defense Lloyd Austin said Russia had put in place all the necessary elements for an invasion of Ukraine, which a senior Pentagon official said would be “horrendous”.
Anand did not use inflammatory language, but said Canada remained concerned and supported harsh assessments by allies.
“It’s hard for me to say what intelligence the Ukrainian government has,” said Anand, who said she had just arrived and had not yet met her counterparts.
“The intelligence we use is consistent with our allies within the NATO alliance.”
She also said the assessments helped inform the decision to move Canadian military trainers to locations west of the Dnieper River, which divides Ukraine into two parts.
Anand’s visit with senior Ukrainian officials, promised last week after Canada renewed its military training mission in the beleaguered country, comes as British Prime Minister Boris Johnson pledged major NATO reinforcements in case of invasion.
The Western military alliance has solicited members and prepared to bolster the defenses of countries bordering Ukraine and Belarus, should Moscow opt for military action to end the standoff, which has seen Russia demand guarantees of non-expanding of NATO membership to the east.
UK considering deployment
On Saturday, Johnson said the UK was considering a major deployment to help bolster NATO’s eastern flank. Britain leads one of the alliance’s forward battlegroups already deployed in Estonia.
Canada leads a multinational battle group based in Latvia, but has not said whether it will reinforce its presence if hostilities break out in Ukraine.
The Biden administration in Washington has also pledged to send more US troops to Eastern Europe.
Anand said Canada was also considering what other contributions it could make to NATO if there was military action, but warned decisions had not been made and discussion was “ongoing”.
Officials from the diplomatic community, speaking to CBC News late last week, said Canada and the UK remained in close contact with each other during the crisis.
Separately, Britain is also considering changing its sanctions regime to make it more flexible and more in line with what partners, like Canada, already have.
Johnson would travel to Eastern Europe next week.
Prime Minister Justin Trudeau’s Liberal government announced last week the renewal and expansion of Canada’s military training mission in Ukraine, known as Operation Unifier. It also intends to provide a package of non-lethal military aids, including body armor, metal detectors, binoculars and medical kits.
The Ukrainian government had requested defensive weapons, and while the Canadian government says it hasn’t ruled out the possibility, no weapons were part of a shipment of supplies that was due to leave this weekend.
Anand’s visit coincided with a rally in central Kiev on Sunday by members of a civil society group calling on the Ukrainian government not to cede territory or its ambition for closer ties with Europe. Several hundred people gathered to thank Allied nations for their support.
Activists oppose the implementation of parts of the Minsk peace accord, which was supposed to end fighting between Russian-backed proxies and the Ukrainian military in the east.