Ottawa, August 4: Canada is sending military trainers to the United Kingdom to help teach Ukrainians how to fight invading Russian forces.
Defence Minister Anita Anand announced the plan on Thursday, saying up to 225 Canadian Armed Forces members will eventually be based in Britain for an initial period of four months.
There they will work alongside counterparts from Britain, the Netherlands and New Zealand in training Ukrainian soldiers on the basics of soldiering.
“Training missions like this, assisting our allies and our partners when they are under attack, is what we do,” Anand said during a virtual news conference. “It is a priority for us as a country to stand shoulder to shoulder with Ukraine and with our allies.”
The move comes nearly six months after Canada suspended its previous training mission in Ukraine just weeks before Russian forces invaded the country in February.
It also came hours before Ukraine’s ambassador to Canada was expected to publicly express her country’s disappointment over Ottawa’s decision to allow pipeline equipment that was in Montreal for repairs to be returned to a Russian energy giant.
The Ukrainian military has put up a spirited defence of its country since thousands of Russian forces launched their assault on Feb. 24. But those early battlefield successes and the ensuing grinding war in the east have not been without a cost.
The Ukrainian government reported in June that 10,000 of its soldiers had been killed since Russian forces invaded, with thousands more wounded and missing.
Officials have also said that between 100 and 200 Ukrainian troops are being killed every day and hundreds more wounded.
Canadian troops had continued working with Ukrainian counterparts even after the previous training mission known as Operation Unifier was suspended, including teaching them how to use the four M777 howitzers that Canada donated earlier this year.
But while those were limited efforts, Thursday’s announcement represented a full resumption of Operation Unifier, which also included 225 Canadian trainers.
It also follows British Prime Minister Boris Johnson first proposing in June that his country host a training mission on its soil.
“When we paused our military training and capacity-building operations in Ukraine under Operation Unifier in early February, I made a commitment to resume these operations whenever and wherever possible,” Anand said.
Canada first launched a mission, along with Britain and the United States, to help train the Ukrainian military after Moscow annexed Crimea in 2014 and started supporting pro-Russian separatists in eastern Ukraine.
The federal government says that mission helped train more than 30,000 Ukrainian soldiers before all Canadian troops were evacuated ahead of Russia’s invasion.
In April, Russia sanctioned all six former commanders of Operation Unifier, which some saw as proof of the mission’s success.
Anand also announced an agreement between the Canadian government and London, Ont.-based General Dynamics Land Systems for the delivery of 39 brand-new armoured vehicles to Ukrainian forces in the coming weeks.
“These vehicles will be delivered straight off the assembly line to address some of Ukraine’s most pressing battlefield needs,” she said. “We are also equipping these vehicles with additional modern state-of-the-art armour and machine-guns.”
Western allies have donated billions of dollars in military weapons and equipment to Ukraine since mid-February, with Canada contributing $662 million in anti-tank and sniper rifles, drones, armoured vehicles, artillery and ammunition.
The donations have sparked some concerns about military equipment ending up on the black market or being used for unintended or illicit purposes.
While Canada is not part of ongoing discussions with Ukraine about the tracking of such equipment, Anand acknowledged the importance of ensuring Canadian-supplied weapons are used for their intended purpose.
Anand said she had discussed the issue with Ukrainian Defence Minister Oleksiy Reznikov in January, “recognizing that it is an important issue for Canada and for Canadians.”