Trudeau cabinet expected to debate renewed Ukraine mission
Ukrainian interior minister also asks Canada's public safety minister for help battling cyber attacks
The Liberal government signalled to its allies that it is prepared to extend Canada's military training mission in Ukraine, CBC News has learned.
A series of senior Ukrainian government officials visited Ottawa over the last few weeks, warning of the dangers of warming frosty relations with Russia.
But they have also lobbied for renewed Canadian assistance beyond March 2017, when the current deployment is set to expire.
Several sources, with knowledge of the file who could not speak publicly, said there is a clear intention for Canada to remain, but the size, scope and composition of the force is yet to be determined and the federal cabinet has yet to give its blessing.
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Last summer, President Petro Poroshenko made a personal pitch to Prime Minister Justin Trudeau in Kyiv to extend the deployment of 200 Canadian troops, who have been providing advanced combat course to ordinary Ukrainian soldiers.
Trudeau was, at the time, non-committal. He would only say Canada, in concert with allies, was prepared "to continue to be steadfast in support of Ukraine."
Ukraine Interior Minister Arsen Avakov met on Monday with Public Safety Minister Ralph Goodale, where the two discussed Canada's commitment to police training and judicial reform, among other things.
In an interview with CBC News, Avakov would not confirm if he and Goodale spoke about the military training commitment — or the reasons Canada has discontinued a program of providing satellite images of eastern regions where Russian-back separatists have been fighting a low-grade war of attrition.
Those matters are outside his jurisdiction, he said through a translator.
Avakov did, however, put a major proposal in front of Goodale, requesting training for Ukrainian national guard units and police forces.
Canada seems anxious to remain involved in the building of institutions, such as the national police force where a partnership is being formed with the RCMP, he said.
Foreign Affairs Minister Stéphane Dion announced, in early October, $8.1 million towards the training and equipping of law enforcement in the hard-pressed eastern European country.
"We are confident this program will continue," Avakov said. "I don't see any obstacles here."
Canada was a major contributor to the reform of country's notorious traffic police, who were seen as corrupt and brutal.
Avakov says the new pitch to Canada would not involve instruction for the country's volunteer battalions, which fall under the country's Interior Ministry.
The self-defence forces, considered among the most effective and battle-hardened at the front, have notorious reputation and have been accused of being populated with neo-Nazis — a claim Avakov dismissed entirely as a product of Russian propaganda.
Help with cyber attacks
Both he and Goodale also spoke extensively about the daily cyberattacks that have hit Ukraine, and in some cases caused disruptions to important infrastructure including the country's power grid and major airport.
Public Safety is the lead in Canada when it comes to cyber-defence and Avakov asked for the department's assistance, specifically access to analytical programs used by the federal government, ones "that analyze huge masses of information" known as metadata.
Avakov also told Goodale he would like to see more Canadians involved as ceasefire observers through the Organization for Security and Co-operation in Europe (OSCE).
Last summer, Canada increased its commitment, but the group has faced harassment — from both sides — and interference as it tries to account for the almost daily violations of the Minsk 2 peace accord.
It was clear in the interview that while Avakov has sympathy for the OSCE, he didn't entirely trust its impartiality, saying it the organization often caves to alleged Russian bullying.
"It is very important that mission of the OSCE does not turn a blind eye to the wrongdoings of the Russian side," he said.