Politics

Top soldier says he won't confirm or deny that Canadians troops are on the ground in Ukraine

Canada's top soldier is declining to confirm media reports that Canadian military members are on the ground in Ukraine to train locals in fighting invading Russian forces.

Gen. Wayne Eyre cites concern for Russian disinformation

Chief of the Defence Staff Gen. Wayne Eyre speaks during a military announcement at Canadian Forces Base Trenton in Trenton, Ont., on June 20. (Lars Hagberg/The Canadian Press)

Canada's top soldier is declining to confirm media reports that Canadian military members are on the ground in Ukraine to train locals in fighting invading Russian forces.

Gen. Wayne Eyre, Canada's chief of the defence staff, appeared on Power & Politics on Monday following reports from Global News and the New York Times that Canadian Forces special operations members are training Ukrainians during Russia's ongoing invasion. 

But when asked about the reports, Eyre said the military is "never going to talk about discreet or sensitive special operations or confirm or deny them."

He called the media reports "disappointing" and speculative.

"If it was true, it would put our troops at risk. And why would anyone deliberately want to put Canadian troops at risk?" Eyre said. 

WATCH | Eyre says media speculation feeds Russian disinformation: 

Gen. Eyre declines to say if Canadian troops operating in Ukraine

2 months ago
Duration 8:44
Chief of Defence Staff General Wayne Eyre declines to confirm reports that Canadian special forces are on the ground operating in Ukraine in a training capacity: "We're never going to talk about discreet or sensitive special operations."

Host Vassy Kapelos asked whether or not it's problematic for Canadians not to have an accurate depiction of the country's participation in a war.

"The other aspect we need to think about is speculation in the media feeds Russian disinformation as well," Eyre said. "We're seeing, as the character of war evolves ... disinformation is itself becoming a weapon. So we just need to be very, very cognizant of that aspect as well."

"Does that mean that if Canadian soldiers are on the ground in Ukraine at any point during this conflict, Canadians will not be aware of that?" Kapelos asked. 

"Every situation is going to be different," Eyre replied. "You balance transparency with operational security and try to find that sweet spot in the middle."

Last week, Defence Minister Anita Anand announced Canada will commit a contingent of soldiers to the British Army's program to turn Ukrainian civilians into fighting troops. That training will be held in the U.K.

The plan amounts to the restart of Operation Unifier, the long-standing training mission which saw — until its suspension last winter — more than 33,000 Ukrainian soldiers given advanced combat instruction by Canadian soldiers.

That mission, conducted on Ukrainian soil, was halted and the troops pulled out of the eastern European country in mid-February on the eve of the full-scale Russian invasion.

The new iteration involves up to 225 personnel, the majority of whom will work as trainers, supported by a command and control element, Anand said.

The initial deployment is expected to be four months.

"Training is something that we have done very, very well and has proven to be of great value to our Ukrainian friends, starting with the start of Operation Unifier," Eyre said Monday. "That's something we want to continue." 

With files from Vassy Kapelos and Murray Brewster

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