Ukraine seeks more help from Canada as U.S. contemplates sending weapons
Ukraine’s top diplomat in Ottawa says Canada “can do more” to help his country, as Western nations debate providing weapons and other “lethal” military aid to government forces fighting Russian-backed rebels in eastern Ukraine.
In an exclusive interview with the Citizen, Ukrainian chargé d’affaires Shevchenko Marko thanked Canada for it assistance after Russia annexed Crimea and began providing military support to separatist rebels in eastern Ukraine’s Donbass region last year.
Canada’s contributions include $400 million in loans to help Ukraine’s battered economy, tens of millions of dollars more in humanitarian and development aid, night-vision goggles, bulletproof vests, tactical radios and 30,000 winter uniforms that were used by the Canadian Forces in the 1990s.
“I don’t know what terms I can use to describe how big and important Canada’s assistance is for my country,” Marko said. “I can only say that we highly appreciate Canada’s support, both its economic assistance and military non-lethal assistance.”
But when asked if Canada had done enough, given the Conservative government’s vocal pledges to stand with Ukraine in the face of what it calls Russian aggression, Marko said: “Canada can do more, and we will appreciate anything more, any kind of assistance.”
Marko, who has headed Ukraine’s embassy in Ottawa since ambassador Vadym Prystaiko returned to Kyiv in November, would not specify what kind of help Ukraine wants from Canada. But his comments came amid a renewed international debate about giving Ukraine weapons.
Ukrainian government and separatist forces agreed to a ceasefire in September after months of fierce fighting in the east of the country. But the deal unravelled last month, and the Kremlin-backed rebels have made significant gains, pushing Ukrainian government forces back in key areas.
An estimated 5,400 people have been killed since the conflict began, many of them civilians.
The Ukrainian government has complained that its forces are outgunned by the separatists, who have deployed advanced Russian weaponry such as rocket launchers and tanks. NATO and Ukraine say Russian soldiers are also fighting in Ukraine.
While the Kremlin denies arming the rebels or sending troops across the border, reports indicate U.S. President Barack Obama is now considering whether to reverse his earlier decision and begin sending the Ukrainian military “lethal” assistance.
Still, there are fears that if Western countries do begin arming the Ukrainians, it will escalate the fighting and provoke a strong Russian reaction in Ukraine and other parts of eastern Europe. Others say the only way to end the conflict is through a negotiated settlement.
Canadian Defence Minister Rob Nicholson told reporters last week that the Conservative government had been “very clear up to this point that the equipment we send is non-lethal; it’s humanitarian supplies.” But he refused to entirely rule out providing lethal aid.
“We need defensive weapons such as anti-tank and anti-aircraft,” Marko said. “If it is decided that such systems will be deployed in Ukraine, we will be grateful. If not, then OK. In any case, we have no other choice: we will fight with or without foreign assistance.”
The diplomat acknowledged concerns that sending weapons to Ukraine could prompt Russia to step up its involvement in the conflict, or that it could see the fighting spread to other parts of eastern Europe. But he said Russia started the provocative action, and the West has to show it has backbone.
“All our problems that we confront with Russia mainly originated from it not respecting treaties, not respecting international obligations, not respecting norms and rules of international life,” he said. “The question is, where is the red line where the West will start to be involved directly?”