Justin Trudeau backs UN peacekeeping mission in Ukraine, but stops short of offering to join in

Prime Minister Justin Trudeau expressed support for a potential United Nations peacekeeping mission in war-torn Ukraine on Friday, but stopped short of committing Canadian troops to such a venture.

'A very strong potential role for peacekeepers,' PM says of Ukraine, but nothing settled on mission

Prime Minister Justin Trudeau met with Ukrainian President Petro Poroshenko in Toronto Friday. Trudeau said he supported the notion of a UN peacekeeping mission to Ukraine, but stopped short of pledging to take part. (Christopher Katsarov/Canadian Press)

Prime Minister Justin Trudeau expressed support for a potential United Nations peacekeeping mission in war-torn Ukraine on Friday, but stopped short of committing Canadian troops.

"I think this is a situation where there is definitely a very strong potential role for peacekeepers, and that's something we look forward to having discussions on in the coming weeks and months," Trudeau told reporters in Toronto at a joint news conference with the visiting president of Ukraine, Petro Poroshenko.

The prime minister said a peacekeeping mission in Ukraine could help to end the violence there and ensure "people are able to live their lives in peace and security in a way that upholds the principles of international law that, quite frankly, Russia violated with its illegitimate actions."

Trudeau made the remarks following a meeting in Toronto with Poroshenko, who indicated he would like to see a Canadian presence should the notion become reality.

Trudeau was asked whether he saw a role for Canada in such a mission, but indicated that the federal cabinet has not yet decided where to commit peacekeeping troops.

Last year, the Liberals earmarked $500 million and promised to deliver 600 soldiers and 150 police officers to UN mandated peace support operations.

The federal government has yet to commit to any specific mission, despite a long list of requests from the world body, most of them concerning conflict in Africa.

Earlier this month, Ukraine submitted a draft proposal to the UN for a peacekeeping mission in the eastern part of the country, something Poroshenko's been calling for, in the Donbas region of the country, since 2015.

Bringing peace to Ukraine

Russia introduced its own UN draft resolution for peacekeeping in Ukraine that would be restricted to monitoring the front line between Russian-backed separatist forces and the Ukrainian military.

Under that plan, monitors from the Organization for Security and Co-operation in Europe would be limited to escorting international ceasefire monitors around the battlefield.

On Friday, Poroshenko said the only plan that makes sense is for a UN Security Council approved peacekeeping mission that would police the entire occupied territories to ensure that no Russian troops, weapons or ammunition crossed the border into Ukraine.

"I definitely, and am absolutely sure, that this is the shortest way to bring peace on Ukrainian land," Poroshenko said.

The administration of U.S. President Donald Trump also reportedly expressed support for the idea of a mission earlier this week. According to the Ukrainian news service Interfax, a U.S. spokesperson was quoted saying Washington was in favour of a mission as long as it had a broad mandate. 

Selling arms to Ukraine

Trudeau was also asked if he had considered taking Ukraine off the list of countries Canadian military contractors are not allowed to sell weapons to.

"Absolutely we are very much looking at the AFCCL — the Automatic Firearms Country Control List — mechanism as something we are moving forward on," Trudeau said. "There's a process and a series of criteria that have to be reached but it is something we are working on."

Canada has provided non-lethal military equipment to the country for some time, shipping equipment such as mobile field hospitals, explosive disposal equipment and night vision goggles.

Earlier this year, Canada and Ukraine signed a defence co-operation agreement, which increases mutual co-operation in the areas of defence policy, education, defence research and development.

Ukrainian Defence Minister Stepan Poltorak said at the time that the agreement was the first step to Ukraine being taken off the firearms control list.

Trudeau stopped short of saying when that would happen, but reiterated his support for the country as it continues to struggle with the aggression of its neighbour.

"We continue to stand with Ukraine against the illegal illegitimate incursion of Russia into Ukrainian territorial sovereignty and their attempts to destabilize Ukraine economically and many other ways," Trudeau said.

With files from Jennifer Chevalier