Defence minister warns of 'severe consequences' for Russia if it won't de-escalate in Ukraine
Anita Anand says Canada and its allies will enact economic sanctions against Russia if needed
Canada's defence minister says Russia has two choices: engage in "meaningful dialogue" on Ukraine, or face "severe consequences" in the form of international economic sanctions.
The federal government announced Wednesday that Canada would be sending aid to Ukraine as Russian troops amass along its borders. That includes additional troops to conduct military training, as well as equipment such as body armour, metal detectors, thermal binoculars, laser range finders, tactical medical bags and surveillance technology.
These measures are part of a three-year extension and expansion of Canada's Operation Unifier in Ukraine, something the Liberal government first signalled was coming back in December.
Other Ukrainian allies, including Britain and the U.S., have been sending weapons to the eastern European country, warning that a Russian invasion is imminent. Ukraine, however, has downplayed concerns of a potential Russian assault.
Defence Minister Anita Anand spoke to As It Happens host Carol Off about Canada's response on Wednesday. Here is part of their conversation.
Ukraine asked your government for … weapons, lethal military support. You have turned them down for that. But have you ruled it out?
In the coming days, an additional 60 troops will be on the ground with the ability to surge to 400. We have trained over 30,000 Ukrainian troops, including 2,000 members of the Ukrainian National Guard. So extending this training mission, expanding its scope, is extremely important for Canada and for Ukraine.
I was in touch with [Ukrainian] Defence Minister [Oleksii] Reznikov today to share this news with him, and he was extremely happy. We will be discussing the details of it when I visit Ukraine in the coming days.
OK, can we just get an answer to my question, though? Are you ruling out sending lethal weapons to Ukraine?
In addition to the items that I have just mentioned, we are continuing to consider the requests that are coming to us from Ukraine and monitoring the evolving, concerning and fluid situation.
WATCH | Personnel and equipment for Ukraine:
The White House says that a Russian invasion is imminent. Do you agree?
At the current time, we are very much focused on a diplomatic solution. As my colleague, [Foreign Affairs] Minister [Mélanie] Joly, has said, the recently launched diplomatic process offers Russia two options: They can choose meaningful dialogue or severe consequences, for example, in the area of economic or financial sanctions.
Any further incursion by the Russian military will yield serious consequences, as I mentioned, including co-ordinated sanctions across our NATO partners.
Reznikov ... gave a message in the Ukrainian parliament on Tuesday. He said there are no grounds to believe that Russia would attack soon. He said that Russian troops were not in formations that suggested an imminent move toward the border. He said, "Don't worry, sleep well. No need to have your bags packed." So why is Canada preparing for Russian escalation and possible invasion?
I will be speaking with Minister Reznikov in detail when I visit Ukraine in the coming days. But what I can say is that we are deeply concerned by the ongoing Russian aggression in and around Ukraine.
Ukraine's security is Europe's security, and the world's security, in fact. Russia must de-escalate, show transparency in its military activities and engage in meaningful dialogue. And any military incursion into Ukraine will have serious consequences, Carol, as I just mentioned, including co-ordinated sanctions.
The president of Ukraine, Volodymyr Zelensky ... said as well that he doesn't agree with Western assessments that such an assault could be imminent. So why does Canada have that impression?
It's important to remember that we are co-ordinating with our allies in terms of our response, and that is based on information that is generally well-known relating to the presence of Russian troops at the border as well as in Belarus. So that is one thing that we must acknowledge.
But in addition to that, I want to stay focused on our announcement today that regardless of the situation in Ukraine, Canada will continue to support Ukrainian troops by assisting with the training missions.
We have trained over 30,000 Ukrainian soldiers. That is significant, and when I speak with my NATO allies, they are universally of the view that that training is important for the stability, the security and the sovereignty of the Ukrainian government and the Ukrainian people as a country.
WATCH | Anand on expanding the training mission in Ukraine:
You say that the solution should be diplomacy [and] through talks. And you're talking at the same time about a significant expansion and extension of our military mission in Ukraine. You said we have a very large footprint. And you also said that we're taking a leading role in Ukraine. And so what role are we actually playing in the diplomatic talks? Is this between Washington and Moscow? Do we have any role at all in something obviously we have a big stake in?
This is not a combat mission that I announced today. This is a mission to ensure that the Ukrainian troops have the access to training and training capabilities that the Canadian Armed Forces can so well offer.
Minister Joly just concluded a trip to Ukraine, France and Belgium. And on her trip, she met with several of her European counterparts to reaffirm Canada's steadfast support for Ukraine's sovereignty and territorial integrity, and continued to stress the importance of a diplomatic solution.
So there is this work for dialogue, for negotiation, for diplomacy, that is continuing. And our announcement today further supports the Ukrainian military by offering additional training resources and non-lethal aid.
We've heard from President Zelensky in Ukraine that he is reassuring his own people that a Russian invasion is less likely than some sort of political unrest. He has talked about the possibility of a coup. He did that just months ago. [He spoke of] concerns that there is going to be instability within the political structure.
Is Canada responding actually to a security crisis in Ukraine, or are we being drawn into a political crisis?
As the prime minister [Justin Trudeau] has stated, any movement of Russian troops into Ukraine would be unacceptable and would be met with a clear response from the international community. And I have been clear that Canada is ironclad in its support of Ukraine's sovereignty, its territorial integrity, its independence.
I'm well aware of the concerning reports from the United Kingdom of Russian destabilization efforts in Ukraine. Every day, I am receiving updates on the situation. And our Chief of Defence Staff Wayne Eyre and I are very, very engaged in terms of the situation in Ukraine on the ground.
You can trust that I will continue to actively engage with our partners, with our allies, as part of the co-ordinated efforts to push for de-escalation in the furtherance of the international rules-based order, which has been in place since the end of the Second World War, which has allowed countries to live in peace and security under democratic regimes. That's what's at stake here. That's what we're aiming to protect, and that's why diplomacy is so very important at this moment.
Written by Sheena Goodyear with files from CBC News. Interview produced by Kevin Robertson. Q&A has been edited for length and clarity.