Canada is considering increasing military aid to Ukraine as Russia gathers troops at the border

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Russian military vehicles are preparing to be loaded into a plane for airborne exercises during maneuvers in Crimea on April 22.Associated Press

Canada is considering stepping up its military mission to Ukraine, amid a debate over whether further NATO forces would deter Russian President Vladimir Putin from further aggression against his country’s neighbor.

Two sources with knowledge of the deliberations said that Defense Minister Anita Anand is considering deploying hundreds of additional troops to support the Canadian soldiers who are already in Ukraine on a training mission. Other options being explored include moving a warship into the Black Sea or relocating some of the CF-18 fighter jets based in Romania.

Each reinforcement would be intended as a message to Putin, who has raised concerns for the second time this year by gathering troops and equipment near his country’s borders with Ukraine. Videos published online show that thousands of battlefield weapons – including tanks, armored vehicles and multi-launch missile systems – are being moved towards Ukraine from its regular bases in other parts of Russia.

According to some estimates, there are now only 100,000 Russian soldiers within a short drive of Ukraine – a country that Putin has never seen as a completely sovereign state, and a country he is determined to refrain from joining the US-led North Atlantic. Treaty. Organisation.

How to respond to Russia’s renewed pressure on Ukraine appears to be Anand’s first major international test since she was appointed defense minister last month, replacing Harjit Sajjan. She and Prime Minister Justin Trudeau must calibrate whether a further Canadian demonstration of support for Ukraine would help dissuade Putin – or force him to take action.

The Russian leader, who for more than a decade has warned of any move to invite Ukraine to NATO, recently stepped up his efforts by declaring that any expansion of existing NATO infrastructure in Ukraine would also cross a “red line” and provoke an unspecified response from Russia.

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Canada has about 200 troops based in the far west of the country – more than 1,000 kilometers from the Russian border – on a mission to train their Ukrainian counterparts. The two sources, who The Globe does not mention because they were not authorized to publicly discuss the deliberations, said that no decision had yet been made to deploy additional forces, despite appeals from the Ukrainian delegation at the recent Halifax Security Forum for Canada and NATO. to do more.

“It is still the status quo, from now on. There has been no change in our stance,” said Lieutenant Commander Julie McDonald, spokeswoman for the Canadian military, on Wednesday. “We are closely monitoring the situation with our allied partners.”

While Ukraine is worried about the possibility of a large-scale invasion, others see the Russian construction as a bargaining chip – one backed by Putin’s proven willingness to use military force to achieve its goals.

Russian and Western defense experts agree that Putin at least seems to give himself the opportunity to order a broader attack on Ukraine, a country that has already been partially torn apart by Russian military action. Russia seized and annexed the Crimean peninsula in 2014, following a pro-Western revolution in Kiev. A Russian-backed militia has also controlled large parts of the Donetsk and Lugansk regions since then, fighting the Ukrainian army in a conflict that has killed more than 14,000 people.)

According to a situation map published by the Ukrainian military, Russia now has 94,000 troops – backed by about 1,200 tanks and 330 fighter jets, plus other equipment – stationed along its borders with Ukraine. Most experts agree that it is too strong a force for the Ukrainian army to withstand for a long time, even though it has intensified in the face of seven years of war.

Pavel Felgenhauer, an independent military analyst based in Moscow, said that although there was no immediate threat of a rapid Russian attack on Ukraine – because the ground in eastern Ukraine is too soft for tank operations – there are signs that Mr Putin can at least consider a offensive in late December or early in the new year when the terrain is frozen.

“Russia is certainly planning a big campaign. That does not mean they will do it,” Felgenhauer said in an interview. together the government of President Volodymyr Zelensky.

Russia drew international condemnation in April after gathering a force of similar size near Ukraine’s borders, where troops returned to the barracks only after Putin secured a one-on-one summit with US President Joe Biden. These talks ended without any major agreement, and the Russian newspaper Kommersant reported earlier this month that the two leaders are expected to hold a one-on-one video conference before the end of 2021.

The meeting in June with Mr. However, Biden had not led to any changes in what Russia sees as an unsustainable situation in Ukraine. Russia is trying to force the Ukrainian government to grant autonomous status to the Donetsk and Lugansk regions. Such a constitutional change would veto pro-Russian forces against any future attempt by Ukraine to join the European Union or NATO.

“Putin is really ready to do something to shock the world and show that he will no longer tolerate the status quo … He is ready to go much further than before,” said Tatiana Stanovaya, a non-resident researcher at Carnegie Moscow Center. “It’s not about [gaining more] territory. The idea is to seriously and without a doubt stop all Ukrainian ambitions to join NATO one day. “

The current crisis is coming as tensions are still high along the border between Belarus, a close ally of Russia, and Poland, a member of NATO. Poland recently moved 15,000 troops to its side of the border after Belarussian dictator Alexander Lukashenko invited thousands of would-be refugees from Iraq, Syria and elsewhere to his country and then sent them west towards Poland and the EU with the obvious intention of creating a new one. migration crisis within the bloc.

Ukrainian Foreign Minister Dmytro Kuleba warned last week that the conflict on the border between Belarus and Poland and the Russian construction around Ukraine were two fronts in a “hybrid war” that Putin was waging against the West. The Kremlin has denied any role in the refugee crisis and says it is NATO that is increasing tensions by repeatedly holding military exercises in the Black Sea region.

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