Joly promises Ukraine financial help as it stares down threat of Russian invasion

Canada's foreign minister landed in Kyiv Monday promising more economic assistance to help keep the Ukrainian government afloat in the face of the uncertainty created by the threat of a Russian invasion.

No decision yet on whether to supply Kyiv with weapons, foreign minister says

Russian soldiers take part in drills at the Kadamovskiy firing range in the Rostov region in southern Russia, Thursday, Jan. 13, 2022. Russia has rejected Western complaints about its troop buildup near Ukraine, saying it deploys them wherever it deems necessary on its own territory. (AP)

Canada's foreign minister landed in Kyiv Monday promising more economic assistance to help keep the Ukrainian government afloat in the face of uncertainty caused by the threat of a Russian invasion.

Mélanie Joly met yesterday with Ukraine's Prime Minister Denys Shmyhal. She said her visit was meant to show Canada's unwavering solidarity in the ongoing crisis.

In a later interview with Radio Canada, Joly said the federal government is still firmly committed to seeing Ukraine join NATO — despite Russia's insistence that extending membership in the western military alliance to Ukraine would cross one of its so-called red lines.

"I [will] tell them that, first of all, Canada's position has not changed. We believe that Ukraine should be able to join NATO," Joly said in French when asked what her message to officials in Kyiv would be over the next two days. 

"At the same time, there must be democratic reforms taking place here, reforms of the judicial system taking place here in Ukraine."

In this photo provided by the Ukrainian Prime Minister's Press Office, Ukraine's Prime Minister Denis Shmyhal, right, and Canada's Minister of Foreign Affairs Melanie Joly greet each other during their meeting in Kyiv, Ukraine on Monday, Jan. 17, 2022. (AP)

The German and French foreign ministers are also meeting with the government in Kyiv this week. Germany's Annalena Baerbock and France's Jean-Yves Le Drian are seeking to revive the four-nation (Germany, Russia, Ukraine and France) "Normandy format" talks.

Those negotiations have so far failed to produce a peaceful resolution to the conflict in eastern Ukraine, where Russian-backed proxies have been fighting Ukrainian forces for seven years.

The Normandy format was set up to support implementation of the 2015 Minsk agreements brokered by Germany and France. Those agreements were supposed to end Russia's proxy separatist war in Ukraine's Donbas region, which erupted after Moscow annexed the Crimea from Ukraine in 2014.

A bipartisan delegation of U.S. senators also arrived in Ukraine on Monday to show support.

A militant of the self-proclaimed Donetsk People's Republic (DNR) holds a weapon at fighting positions on the line of separation from the Ukrainian armed forces near the rebel-controlled settlement of Yasne (Yasnoye) in Donetsk region, Ukraine, January 14, 2022. (Alexander Ermochenko/Reuters)

Moscow has positioned more than 100,000 troops on three sides of Ukraine and has kept them at combat-ready status — all while denying it's planning an invasion.

The government of Russian President Vladimir Putin has demanded that NATO end its eastward expansion and deny membership in the alliance to both Ukraine and Georgia, another former Soviet-era republic. It also insisted that western military deployments in eastern Europe be rolled back to 1997 levels.

The United States and NATO have rejected those demands but say they're willing to discuss other confidence-building measures, including a renewed treaty limiting missile deployments in Europe.

A massive cyber attack — believed to have been launched from Russia's ally Belarus — struck Ukrainian government computers on Friday with a message warning Ukrainians to "be afraid and expect the worst."

A costly conflict

The ongoing crisis has put a major strain on Ukraine's finances.

Last month, the World Bank approved a $428 million (300 million euro) loan to help Ukraine offset the economic shocks brought on by COVID-19.

Separately, international financial institutions stepped up with a $285 million (200 million euro) loan to help expand transportation infrastructure across Ukraine. That's on top of a $700 million International Monetary Fund (IMF) loan, approved in November, to help the country implement reforms.

Canada has been one of Ukraine's biggest bilateral contributors since 2014, spending $245 million on the country's constitutional, judicial and security reforms.

Joly said Monday her government recognizes that more must be done. 

"We are ready to make loans to Ukraine," she said. "This has been the case in the past.

"We are ready to talk about it once and offer financial resources to Ukraine because we know that the Russian threat creates a form of economic instability, and that has an impact on state revenue and the ability of the Ukrainian government to finance its approach."

The question of whether Canada intends to supply defensive weapons to Ukraine to meet a possible invasion is still being discussed within government, Joly added.

Britain's defence secretary announced Monday that the United Kingdom had started delivering anti-tank weapons to help Ukraine defend itself.

"We have taken the decision to supply Ukraine with light anti-armour defensive weapon systems," said Ben Wallace, who told the U.K. Parliament that a small number of British personnel would provide the Ukrainians with training for a short period of time.

Joly said that after she leaves Ukraine, she will travel on to Paris and Brussels for further talks with allies.


Murray Brewster

Senior reporter, defence and security

Murray Brewster is senior defence writer for CBC News, based in Ottawa. He has covered the Canadian military and foreign policy from Parliament Hill for over a decade. Among other assignments, he spent a total of 15 months on the ground covering the Afghan war for The Canadian Press. Prior to that, he covered defence issues and politics for CP in Nova Scotia for 11 years and was bureau chief for Standard Broadcast News in Ottawa.

With files from Reuters