Canada tries to build diplomatic bridges as war on Ukraine over war

OTTAWA – In the face of a growing crisis over Russia’s military build-up in Eastern Europe, Canada is trying to help Ukraine’s military preparations, even as it seeks to play a role as a diplomatic bridge-builder.

The stakes are high, and it’s a difficult balance for a liberal government that has never been all in for defense spending or military muscle flexion.

Yet there was no doubt about the global implications of increasing tensions on Ukraine’s borders, Friday’s display of mutual admiration by Russian President Vladimir Putin and Chinese President Xi Jinping was intended to dispel them.

In a lengthy joint statement, China and Russia opposed “further expansion of NATO”, and among other things, China threw its weight behind Putin’s demands for “long-term legally binding security guarantees in Europe.”

The US and its NATO allies have said many of these claims are non-principles.

In a confrontation that is becoming a clash of superpowers, the Canadian government says it is following a double trail of diplomacy and deterrence.

This is not in line with the Americans, and many experts say it is as it should be.

“They have different strategic objectives and therefore their reactions should be different,” said Mike Day, a retired Canadian Army lieutenant general.

“What the United States wants to achieve, and what Canada wants to achieve, are different things. At the core, yes, it is stability and security and to prevent Russia (from invading), but it also puts Canada in the world. ”

Behind the scenes, Foreign Minister Melanie Joly is working on diplomatic phone lines and connections to ensure NATO allies are on the same page in their intelligence analysis, risk assessments and contingency plans to impose corrosive sanctions if diplomacy fails.

“We are the one who can bridge different countries together – friends of the United States, but also friends of Europe,” Joly told the House of Commons.

While the Trudeau government believes that Russia is testing NATO and trying to divide it, Canadian officials said on Thursday that NATO unit was “iron-clad”.

Ottawa sent a plane loaded with defense equipment – including thermal binoculars, armored jackets and laser rangefinders – to Ukraine on Thursday night.

Unlike the US, however, Canada does not yet ship guns. The government says that request from Ukraine is being evaluated in a “fluid” and developing situation.

Canada is also not immediately expanding its troop footprint in NATO operations on Europe’s eastern flank, although it is still a possibility, according to Defense Minister Anita Anand.

Instead, Canada bends soft power.

Joly arranged to lend Ukraine $ 120 million to stabilize its shaky economy, a move followed by substantial EU lending.

Canada also provides cyber-operational support to Ukraine and expands Canada’s training mission there.

For the past six years, Canadian forces have had the largest training mission in Ukraine – not a NATO mission, but one operated under the Canadian Army’s own banner, Operation Unifier.

It was a request from Ukraine granted by the former Conservative government, which was extended by Trudeau for another three years.

The first additional 60 Canadian staff members were on the plane that left CFB Trenton on Thursday night, joining 200 other trainers on the ground, with the mission’s complement eventually to double to 400.

Luitenkol Luc-Frederic Gilbert, Commander of the Joint Task Force Ukraine, maintained in a telephone interview with Kyiv this week that the training had a major impact on Ukraine’s ability to defend itself.

“I would say we make a difference. We have definitely done it, and we will continue to do it, ”he said.

Since 2015, Canadian forces have trained more than 30,000 Ukrainian soldiers in two groups: the Armed Forces of Ukraine, and the National Guard of Ukraine.

The Canadians led instruction in sniper and reconnaissance skills, battlefield first aid, and disposal of improvised explosive devices.

They also trained Ukrainian military units in how to conduct their military operations, how to recruit troops “on a unit level”, how to carry out military policing, and how to perform “NATO-type artillery” way “.

Gilbert said Ukraine has Soviet-type weapons. “We are not here to make their equipment interoperable with NATO,” he said. “We are here to make the employment of forces interoperable with NATO.”

Matthew Schmidt, a US security analyst, told CBC’s “The House” last week that US special forces are also training forces in Ukraine and teaching them how to start an uprising using lessons the Americans have learned to counter Fighting al-Qaeda in Afghanistan

Gilbert said bluntly that is not what the Canadian forces are doing.

“No, the purpose of our training is to train a professional military force,” he said, “and both groups we train are actually very professional soldiers.”

Conservatives argue Trudeau’s response to the crisis in Ukraine is weak, and that Ottawa should send deadly weapons.

But given the fighting force provided by the Americans and others, Day said there is no significant gap caused by Canada not kicking in lethal aid, an option he said remains open.

He says rather, Canada makes a careful calculation.

“We believe in the sanctity of territorial integrity,” he said. “And secondly, we are a trading nation and we believe that a stable, secure Europe is good for Canadian security and its economy. So we align it.

“But Canada’s calculation is always, because we are such a small force, relatively speaking, what does it mean for Canada? And that’s not a criticism. This is what the question should be. How can we reap the maximum benefit, avoid any loss for the most modest contribution possible, and how can we do so in a value-added way. ”

By adding more trainers, he said, it would increase the skill level of Ukrainian fighters, and “liberate” senior Ukrainian soldiers to lead Ukrainian units. “This is a significant contribution. Canadian coaches are making a significant contribution in a way that makes a difference.

And Day said Canada is “fairly effective in NATO given how much we participate. We have a real voice and are seen as helping to ‘manage’ our American friends.

“The standard is not ‘oh my God, look what our allies are doing.’ The standard is not ‘combat troops and nothing else is valuable.’ These are ridiculous criteria. The measure is can we de-escalate? Can we escalate? Will the addition of more give us more influence? These are the lenses. ”

For now, several dozen Canadian trainers in Ukraine are moving further west, where the risk of conflict is reduced. Gilbert said it would not make a difference at work, insisting the safety of those officers is his priority.

At this time, he said, there is no tangible sense in Kiev that an invasion is imminent.

“We are in the center of Kiev, Kiev is normal at the moment … There is no panic. There are no signs like that. Ukrainians are really resilient people, and Stoics and we can see it. But there is no no clear signs or mass panic, none of that at the moment. ”


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