Canada to send Ukraine lethal military equipment worth $7.8M
Announcement comes just days after Ottawa closed its embassy in Kyiv
On the eve of an anticipated Russian invasion of Ukraine, Canada's Liberal government has — perhaps somewhat belatedly — decided to ship the embattled eastern European country a handful of lethal weapons.
The announcement of the arms shipment, including machine guns, hand pistols, carbines and ammunition, was tucked into Monday's media availability relating to the declaration of the federal Emergencies Act.
"In light of the seriousness of the situation, and following conversations with our Ukrainian partners, I've approved the provision of $7.8 million worth of lethal equipment and ammunition," Prime Minister Justin Trudeau told a Monday news conference.
"The intent of this support from Canada and other partners is to deter further Russian aggression."
The government also says it will make a new $500-million loan available to Ukraine after previously announcing a separate $120-million loan in January.
It is unclear when the weapons will be shipped.
Move signals policy shift
Although the Liberal government has been quick to say it has never ruled out sending lethal aid the Ukrainians have requested for months, the decision represents a policy shift.
Up until this point in the crisis, Canada has peferred to send non-lethal equipment, including flak vests, mine detectors and medical kits.
In justifying the government's earlier reluctance, Trudeau said Russia was simply looking for an excuse to take military action against Ukraine and suggested that weapons shipment could be seen as a pretext.
Some of Canada's closest NATO allies, including the United States and the United Kingdom, have already shipped hundreds of tonnes of arms, including anti-tank weapons.
Western intelligence agencies have warned that Moscow is expected to take military action as early as Wednesday.
"We're not seeking confrontation with Russia, but the situation is intensifying rapidly, and we are showing our resolve," Trudeau said in French on Monday.
"It's important for Canadians and the world to know that Canada will continue supporting Ukraine and its independence, integrity, sovereignty — including its right to defend itself."
The decision came less than 24 hours after it was revealed that Canada had pulled its military trainers out of Ukraine and relocated its embassy operations from Kyiv to Lviv, a city in the far western part of the country, near the Polish border.
The decision by Canada to ship lethal aid was applauded by the Ukrainian Canadian Congress.
"This is a major policy shift, which puts Canada side by side in a coalition of democracies that are steadfastly supporting the Ukrainian people's right to defend their liberty from Russia's wanton and unprovoked aggression," the group said in a statement.
Situation 'absolutely under control': Ukraine official
Ukrainian officials remained publicly skeptical on Monday that an attack was imminent.
The head of the country's National Security and Defence Council, Okeksiy Danilov, said the government does not expect to see an attack this week.
"We are fully aware of what is happening today on the territory of our country, we are aware of the risks, but the situation is absolutely under control," Danilov was quoted as saying by local television.
Even still, Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky acknowledged the country could soon face "a great war" and signed a decree declaring Feb. 16, 2022, the "Day of Unity of Ukrainians," according to the country's Interfax news agency.
Russia continues to deny it has plans to invade Ukraine, but it has assembled more than 100,000 troops and marines, as well as an arsenal of sophisticated weapons, on Ukraine's northern and eastern borders and in the Black Sea to the south. Washington has warned that military action could begin as soon as the middle of this week.
Russian President Vladimir Putin has demanded that Ukraine be barred from joining NATO and has called for NATO members to cease troop rotations through eastern Europe.