Trudeau cabinet expected to debate renewed Ukraine mission

Canada has signalled it is prepared to extend its military training mission in Ukraine. Sources tell CBC News that the size and scope is still up for debate before the current mandate expires in March. At the same time, the list of training asks from Ukraine is getting longer.

Ukrainian interior minister also asks Canada's public safety minister for help battling cyber attacks

Ukraine's interior minister, Arsen Avakov, met with Public Safety Minister Ralph Goodale on Monday. Ukraine wants Canada to extend its military training mission there and also wants help dealing with cyber attacks. (Murray Brewster/CBC News)

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.

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.

Prime Minister Justin Trudeau reviews an honour guard with Ukrainian President Petro Poroshenko outside the Presidential Administration Building in Kyiv, Ukraine. Trudeau was noncommittal about an extension of Canada's mission when the two leaders met in July. (Adrian Wyld/Canadian Press)

RCMP partnership

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.


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.


To encourage thoughtful and respectful conversations, first and last names will appear with each submission to CBC/Radio-Canada's online communities (except in children and youth-oriented communities). Pseudonyms will no longer be permitted.

By submitting a comment, you accept that CBC has the right to reproduce and publish that comment in whole or in part, in any manner CBC chooses. Please note that CBC does not endorse the opinions expressed in comments. Comments on this story are moderated according to our Submission Guidelines. Comments are welcome while open. We reserve the right to close comments at any time.

Become a CBC Member

Join the conversation  Create account

Already have an account?