Canadian Defense Minister Jason Kenney announced on Wednesday that Prime Minister Harper’s administration is seriously considering taking part in US-led training missions in Ukraine. Kenney said Canadian efforts would focus primarily on battlefield medical training.
“That’s the kind of technical training that we can offer,” he said, according to the Canadian Press. “We are in discussions and looking at options, and we’re open to – as I’ve been saying for two weeks now – open to participating in training missions.”
He did not rule out the possibility of Canadian advisors also taking part in combat training.
Canada has already provided Ukrainian soldiers with two shipments of non-lethal military gear. They have also provided satellite images which track pro-independence militias’ movement in the east of the country. Any action beyond that must first be approved by the House of Commons.
“If we are going to work towards anything different than what we’re doing now, which is non-kinetic flak jackets…we could send night vision goggles. That’s been agreed to and we’re on board with that,” Kenney said. “Anything beyond that requires two things. One, concerted NATO action. Two, a decision by the Parliament of Canada.”
Kenney insists that the proposal would only be an extension of Canadian NATO commitments.
“We’ll be doing more later this year in NATO exercises, all of which is designed to send a message to Russia that Canada, together with our NATO allies, stands with our eastern European friends against any intimidation or territorial aggression on the part of Vladimir Putin,” he said.
Russia, of course, categorically denies its involvement in the conflict.
Still, many express concerns with escalating Canadian involvement in the conflict.
“Unless there’s a prospect for years of war, and I don’t think there is, it’s already very late in the game to be reinforcing Kiev’s ragtag forces,” former Canadian ambassador to Russia. Chris Westdal, told CBC News.
Lawmakers may also be hesitant to send advisors after an incident last month, in which Canadian military advisors fired back at self-proclaimed Islamic State militants in northern Iraq.
“I asked the prime minister straight up in September whether this was a combat mission, whether Canadian troops would be involved in combat. I got a categorical answer, and the answer was no,” New Democratic Party leader Tom Mulcair told reporters, accusing Harper of misleading Parliament about his administration’s intentions.
If a similar incident occurred in Ukraine, it could escalate tensions and draw Canada into the conflict even further.
Leader of the Liberal opposition, Justin Trudeau, also wants more details about the government’s plan before signing off on training missions.
On Wednesday, the British government announced it would send 75 military advisors to Ukraine next month. This follows a decision by the US to send 800 troops to train soldiers in western Ukraine.