Canada Thursday condemned what it calls an “invasion of eastern Ukraine” by Vladimir Putin and the Russian Federation, saying the attacks will “strengthen the resolve” of NATO leaders who will meet next week to discuss the escalating crisis.
The Conservative government did not indicate what further measures it plans, but Ukraine’s ambassador to Canada Thursday called for Canada and its allies to act “immediately” by providing “real” military support and even troops on the ground to help his country defend itself in what he says has become an outright war.
“Nowadays when we see the Russians are fighting as the military are doing, we need more support. When we’re talking support nowadays, we’re talking about military support. At least we will need some military equipment,” Ukrainian Ambassador Vadym Prystaiko told the Citizen.
“We’re asking all of the allies of NATO, ‘Guys, we understand it’s not your war, we understand nobody wants your people to die. And we also don’t want our people to die. But if you want to stop this war right now with a little blood before it gets really ugly, we have to act right now — immediately.’ ”
NATO confirmed Thursday that more than 1,000 Russian troops are now operating inside Ukraine, which it said is a significant escalation of the Russian government’s military incursions in the country.
Prystaiko said his country appreciates Canada’s previous support of non-lethal equipment, but insists it’s time for “real” military support.
Prystaiko wants Canada and its allies to provide fighter jets – such as Canada’s CF-18s – to help the Ukraine military with air support, as well as rifles, armoured vehicles, surveillance equipment and any other support that can help Ukraine in this “war.”
He said he personally wants NATO to provide troops on the ground, but noted that wasn’t his country’s official position yet, and conceded many countries will be unwilling to put their troops in harm’s way.
“I’m asking them to help us with military equipment,” he said. “We are thankful for the protective gear they gave us … but now we need real support. We need to fight.”
U.S. President Barack Obama flatly ruled out any American military intervention in Ukraine Thursday. Canada did not address the issue.
“We are not taking military action to solve the Ukrainian problem. What we’re doing is to mobilize the international community to apply pressure on Russia,” Obama said.
“It is not in the cards for us to see a military confrontation between Russia and the United States in this region.”
Foreign Affairs Minister John Baird Thursday assailed Putin’s government for its “invasion of eastern Ukraine.” Putin and the Russian Federation have lost all credibility for their “shameless dishonesty,” Baird said, calling on Russia to halt its “blatant act of aggression.”
However, Baird wouldn’t say what new measures, if any, Canada will take in response, beyond sanctions already announced.
“It is no surprise to anyone that there are both Russian and Russian-sponsored units actively operating within Ukraine’s sovereign borders. What we’ve seen in the last couple of days is a marked escalation of that,” Baird told reporters via teleconference from Croatia, where he is on an official visit.
“There’s no doubt that Russia, their subtle actions in eastern Ukraine (have) become a very active invasion. And to do this a week before NATO leaders meet in Wales is a significant provocation and completely unacceptable. This will undoubtedly strengthen the resolve of all NATO leaders ahead of their meeting in Wales.”
Canada is calling on Putin and Russia to immediately halt its attack on Ukraine, respect that country’s sovereignty, pull back Russian forces and end the flow of arms across the border.
“There must be repercussions for this blatant act of aggression. Canada stands ready with its international partners to take further measures to isolate the Putin regime,” Baird added.
NATO leaders gathering next week will examine what additional measures are required from the “civilized world,” he said.
Baird said Putin and Russia have proven they are not prepared to deal honestly with the West, “and that is even a deeper diplomatic provocation, which obviously is of great concern to Canada.”
Canada and its allies have placed political and economic sanctions on Russia and have pledged millions of dollars in aid to Ukraine. Canada has also provided some non-lethal military equipment — such as helmets, ballistic eyewear, protective vests, first aid kits, tents and sleeping bags — to help Ukraine protect its eastern border against Russian military aggression.
Thursday, two columns of Russian tanks and military vehicles fired Grad missiles from Russia at a border post in southeastern Ukraine, then rolled into the country as its overmatched border guards fled, a top Ukrainian official said.
The comments by Col. Andriy Lysenko, a spokesman for Ukraine’s National Security Council, and other statements from NATO, the pro-Russian separatists in Ukraine and the United States, left no doubt that the Russian military had invaded southeastern Ukraine.
Brig.-Gen. Nico Tak told reporters at NATO headquarters that the ultimate aim of Russia was to stave off defeat for the pro-Russia separatists and turn eastern Ukraine into a “frozen conflict” that would destabilize the country “indefinitely.”
NATO estimated that another 20,000 Russian troops were right across the Russian border.
Tak said the 1,000 Russian troops operating inside Ukraine was a conservative estimate and provided satellite imaginary showing an incursion of great sophistication.
The leader of the pro-Russian insurgency, Alexander Zakharchenko, said in an interview on Russian state television that 3,000 to 4,000 Russians have fought on the separatist side since the armed conflict began in April.
The U.S. government accused Russia of orchestrating a new military campaign in Ukraine, helping rebel forces expand their fight and sending in tanks, rocket launchers and armoured vehicles.