Skip to main content

Ottawa quietly eases restrictions on Canadian military mission in Ukraine

Canadian Prime Minister Justin Trudeau reviews an honour guard in Yavoriv, Ukraine, on July 12, 2016.

Adrian Wyld/THE CANADIAN PRESS

The military has quietly expanded its footprint in Ukraine, giving commanders free rein to send their troops anywhere — except where they might run into Russian forces or separatist rebels.

Canada first deployed about 200 troops to Ukraine in the summer of 2015 to help train government forces in their fight against Russian-backed separatists in the eastern part of the country.

But the Canadians were required to stay in the western half of Ukraine, far from the conflict that has continued to rage over the intervening two years, leaving more than 10,000 people dead.

Story continues below advertisement

Related: Ottawa backs war-torn Ukraine, extends mission by two years

Read more: As Russia-U.S. ties strengthen, violence escalates in Ukraine

Those restrictions were eased in March when the government extended the mission for another two years, the mission's commander, Lt.-Col. Mark Lubiniecki, said in an interview Wednesday.

While Canadian troops are still required to stay away from the border with Russia and the fighting in eastern Ukraine, he said, the rest of the country is now fair game.

The change, Lubiniecki added, has given welcome flexibility to the Canadian mission, which has so far trained nearly 4,500 Ukrainian troops, many of whom have since been sent into the conflict zone.

The number of Canadian soldiers in Ukraine remains the same.

Lubiniecki would not reveal how far his troops have to stay from the Russian border, except to say that it is far enough away to keep them safe and prevent anyone from misinterpreting they they are in Ukraine.

Story continues below advertisement

"We're here to provide mentorship and training, we're not here to be operating on the front line," he said. "So making sure we maintain that buffer is extremely important for us."

The training mission is set to expire in 2019.

The UN Office of the High Commissioner for Human Rights released a report this week on the conflict in eastern Ukraine, asserting that an end to the three-year-old war was nowhere to be seen.

Fighting continues to erupt despite the existence of a ceasefire, while more than 1.6 million people have been forced to flee their homes and another 3 million are struggling to make ends meet.

Canada's presence in eastern Europe is actually set to expand over the next few months, as about 450 troops arrive in Latvia to lead a NATO force that will serve as a check on Russian aggression.

One of the concerns trumpeted by both Canadian and Latvian officials is that Russia, or at least pro-Russian agitators, will attempt to spread lies and false information about the mission there.

Story continues below advertisement

But Lubiniecki said his troops in Ukraine have so far been spared from any such information attacks, saying: "I'm just not seeing it (on the ground) right now."

That applies to cyberattacks, as well.

Moscow and its separatist allies in eastern Ukraine aren't the only threats that Kyiv is struggling to address: corruption is also one of several significant problems.

The Ukrainian military and its defence sector have not been spared, as outlined in recent months by various media reports as well as investigations by NGOs such as Transparency International.

Much of the concern has focused on whether Ukrainian government officials have been enriching themselves by skimming defence contracts or diverting equipment donated by countries like Canada.

Transparency International released a report last month saying improvements have been made, but more needs to be done to ensure foreign donations get to the Ukrainian troops who actually need it.

Canada has so far provided about $16-million in non-lethal equipment such as helmets, bulletproof vests and winter clothing to the Ukrainian military, and promised another $7.25-million by 2019.

Lubiniecki said he has not seen any evidence of corruption during his time in the country, and that the Ukrainian soldiers his troops are training are well equipped and motivated.

Report an error
Comments

Welcome to The Globe and Mail’s comment community. This is a space where subscribers can engage with each other and Globe staff. Non-subscribers can read and sort comments but will not be able to engage with them in any way. Click here to subscribe.

If you would like to write a letter to the editor, please forward it to letters@globeandmail.com. Readers can also interact with The Globe on Facebook and Twitter .

Welcome to The Globe and Mail’s comment community. This is a space where subscribers can engage with each other and Globe staff. Non-subscribers can read and sort comments but will not be able to engage with them in any way. Click here to subscribe.

If you would like to write a letter to the editor, please forward it to letters@globeandmail.com. Readers can also interact with The Globe on Facebook and Twitter .

Welcome to The Globe and Mail’s comment community. This is a space where subscribers can engage with each other and Globe staff.

We aim to create a safe and valuable space for discussion and debate. That means:

  • Treat others as you wish to be treated
  • Criticize ideas, not people
  • Stay on topic
  • Avoid the use of toxic and offensive language
  • Flag bad behaviour

Comments that violate our community guidelines will be removed.

If your comment doesn't appear immediately it has been sent to a member of our moderation team for review

Read our community guidelines here

Discussion loading…

Due to technical reasons, we have temporarily removed commenting from our articles. We hope to have this fixed soon. Thank you for your patience. If you are looking to give feedback on our new site, please send it along to feedback@globeandmail.com. If you want to write a letter to the editor, please forward to letters@globeandmail.com.