Canada relocated its military trainers in Ukraine in response to fears of Russian invasion
Head of training mission says 60 troops were moved west of the Dnieper River
The Canadian military was forced to relocate about 30 per cent of its 200 trainers in Ukraine — including sniper instructors — because of the threat of a Russian invasion, says the Canadian commander on the ground in the eastern European country.
Lt.-Col. Luc-Frederic Gilbert told CBC News on Tuesday that the military pulled 60 troops out of five locations — Odesa, Ctare, Mykolaiv, Decna and Borjspeil — and moved them to new bases west of the Dnieper River, a major geographical feature which divides Ukraine.
During her visit to Kyiv earlier this week, Defence Minister Anita Anand said the move was being made for the safety and security of the Canadian troops but did not offer any details.
Gilbert said troops affected by the order to move will now restart their instruction elsewhere in the country.
The training mission, known as Operation Unifier, has evolved over the years, with Canadian soldiers stepping back in some cases to advise and mentor Ukraine soldiers who are beginning to pick up some of the burden of instruction.
The Ukrainian army and national guard have been given higher levels of combat training, including battlefield engineering and mine clearing. They're being taught reconnaissance and combat first aid.
Last week, the Liberal government announced it was extending and expanding the military training mission, adding another 60 troops to the 200 already on the ground. The option to add an additional 140 is also on the table.
Precisely what the extra troops will be doing is still being worked out by military planners. Gilbert said he believes they'll be able to offer more of the same training to Ukrainian soldiers.
Some critics have suggested expanding the training mission does little in the short term to deter Russian aggression. Gilbert said some of the courses on offer, such as sniper training and first-responder medical care, can take as little as three weeks.
"There are some short-term goals we can achieve with a surge of people and a surge of equipment," said Gilbert in an interview Tuesday at his task force headquarters in Kyiv, the capital.
As part of last week's package, the Department of National Defence (DND) will also provide Ukraine with non-lethal military equipment, including body armour, metal detectors, thermal binoculars, laser range finders, tactical medical bags and surveillance technology.
Gilbert said the equipment is on its way and will arrive this week. He would not say which elements of the Ukrainian military will receive the gear.
The comments from the task force commander came on the day that Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky signed a decree to increase the size of Ukraine's armed forces by 100,000 troops over three years and give soldiers a raise.
In a speech, Zelensky again urged lawmakers to stay calm and avoid panic. He said he ordered the troop increase "not because we will soon have a war, but so that soon and in the future there will be peace in Ukraine."
Members of the Ukrainian parliament also expressed their gratitude for the support their country has received from abroad. Canada was among the nations they singled out.
"We thank (you) for understanding that Moscow (is) trying to rebuild the Soviet empire. (It) poses a threat not only to Ukrainian territorial integrity and sovereignty, but also to democracy, human rights and international security," said Sofiya Fedyna, an MP representing the European Solidarity Party.
Prime Minister Justin Trudeau spoke with French President Emmanuel Macron about Ukraine on Tuesday. According to a statement from Trudeau's office, the two leaders underlined the need for Russia to engage diplomatically and warned again that further military action against Ukraine would lead to severe coordinated sanctions.
U.K. Prime Minister Boris Johnson carried a similar message Tuesday to Kyiv, where he met Zelensky and described how his government is tweaking its sanctions laws in order to strike quickly should Moscow initiate military action.
"The package that we're bringing forward, the new legislation, will enable us to pinpoint commercial interests of Russia, strategic commercial interests of Russia in a very direct way, as well as individual Russian commercial interests," he said.