Trudeau minister says Canada is ‘open to’ training soldiers in Ukraine: report

‘The circumstances are not right to deploy [troops to Ukraine], in my view,’ Defence Minister Bill Blair told reporters. ‘However, should the conditions change, we are open to that,’ he said.

Trudeau minister says Canada is ‘open to’ training soldiers in Ukraine: report
AP Photo/Laurent Cipriani
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The Trudeau government has not ruled out sending troops to Ukraine for training purposes, Defence Minister Bill Blair says.

The French government earlier pressed for the deployment of NATO troops to train Ukrainian soldiers inside the war-torn country. It has been under assault by Russia since February 2022.

On Monday, Blair told reporters “the circumstances are not right to deploy, in my view.” 

“However, should the conditions change, we are open to that,” he said.

Canada trained Ukrainians in their country until the unilateral invasion. The federal government had not been clear on whether it would resume efforts, until now.

Lithuania's foreign minister endorsed the idea last month, while a top defence adviser to U.S. President Joe Biden thinks NATO trainers will eventually return to Ukraine.

The Canadian Armed Forces (CAF) are currently training Ukrainian troops in Latvia, Poland, Britain and at home, in Canada under Operation Unifor. 

However, Canada's military is in a dire state with its aging equipment and personnel shortages.

Roughly 700 soldiers are stationed in Latvia and some have had to purchase their own military equipment, including helmets, rain gear, tactical vests and ammunition, to maintain current ballistic protection standards.

Last April, media reports surfaced that some of the nearly 1,000 troops in Poland incurred thousands of dollars in debt to cover food costs as CAF did not send military cooks on the mission.

Only 58% of the CAF could mobilize should their NATO allies declare war, according to a recent internal Department of National Defence (DND) presentation obtained by CBC News.

Almost half of the military's equipment is considered “unavailable and unserviceable,” it reads, including 45% of equipment set aside for the defence of Europe.

The Royal Canadian Air Force is currently in the worst shape of all the military forces, with 55% of its equipment considered “unserviceable,” followed by the Navy (54%) and Army (46%).

Regardless, Minister Blair previously said Canada is willing to send military personnel to Ukraine, but not to the front lines of the conflict. 

“I want to make sure that training is effective for the Ukrainian Armed Forces. We also want to make sure that any members that we deploy into Ukraine would be able to do their job safely,” he said Monday. 

Meanwhile, latest federal estimates for the upcoming fiscal year show $79 million will be reallocated from the “ready forces” elsewhere.

“There is, I think, quite an understandable concern about expanding the training mission into Ukraine at the current time,” Blair said.

On Friday, NATO secretary general Jens Stoltenberg told reporters that ongoing efforts “do not make NATO a party to the conflict.” He did not specifically reference the French proposal.

Stoltenberg wants a long-term funding commitment from allies in the region, worth $58.9 billion cumulatively. 

While Minister Blair called the proposal a “strong plan,” he stopped short of guaranteeing a specific amount. The final decision on financial contributions will fall to Prime Minister Justin Trudeau, he said.

“As Russia's invasion of Ukraine enters its second winter, Ukrainians can count on Canada's support—for as long as it takes,” Trudeau said earlier this year.

The totality of foreign aid provided to Ukraine from Canada has surpassed $9 billion since the conflict began.

Finance Minister Chrystia Freeland, of Ukrainian descent, pledged ongoing financial support last April. “We will be there until Ukraine wins the war,” she told reporters at the time.

Loans, grants and military aid to Ukraine totalled $5.4 billion with an additional loan of $2.4 billion for 2023. That includes donations of missiles, ammunition, rocket launchers, anti-armour weapons, drones and Leopard battle tanks. 

More than 11,100 Ukrainian civilians have perished in the military conflict, according to a May report by the office of the United Nations High Commissioner for Human Rights. 

Reconstruction and recovery is projected to cost US$486 billion over the next decade.

An internal Department of Finance poll published by Blacklock’s Reporter showed that fewer than a third (32%) of Canadians support more financial aid for Ukraine. 36% of Canadians oppose ongoing help, whereas 33% have no opinion.

Earlier this year, Canada inked a 10-year security pact with Ukraine for $3 billion. But concerns remain after failing to meet NATO spending targets in more than two decades.

Recent spending pledges are aimed at bringing Canada's defence spending to 1.76% of GDP by 2030—well short of the 2% target.

More than half (53%) of Canadians want the federal government to meet the spending benchmark, according to an Angus Reid poll.

Nearly 30% indicate the country’s military preparedness has become a top priority—more than double from a decade ago.

Eleven other NATO allies are not meeting their defence commitments.

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