Defence Minister Anita Anand used a visit to Ukraine on Wednesday to announce that Canada is sending another 200 armoured vehicles to help with the embattled country’s defence against Russian invaders.
Yet even as Anand unveiled the latest contribution, the announcement was largely overshadowed by questions about whether Canada and its allies would acquiesce to Ukraine’s request for even heavier equipment: tanks.
The Canadian defence minister revealed the government’s plan to purchase 200 armoured vehicles for Ukraine’s military during a news conference in the capital Kyiv following a meeting with Ukrainian Defence Minister Oleksii Reznikov.
The vehicles are being purchased from Roshel, a company based in Mississauga, Ont., at a cost of $90 million. Canada previously sent eight of the same Roshel-made Senator armoured personnel carriers to Ukraine last spring.
“The Senator APCs are security-task vehicles, and I have heard repeatedly that Ukrainian troops appreciate their maneuverability and their adaptability,” Anand told reporters while sitting alongside Reznikov.
“The vehicles also allow for the safe transportation of personnel and equipment and medical evacuations.”
The vehicles represent the latest military contribution from Canada to Ukraine since Russia launched a full-scale invasion of the country in February, touching off Europe’s largest conflict since the Second World War.
Reznikov was quick to thank Canada for the armoured vehicles as well as its other contributions, including an American-made surface-to-air missile system announced last week at a cost of around $406 million.
The Ukrainian defence minister said such air-defence systems were his country’s top priority, as Russian missiles continue to rain down on civilian targets across the country, including a devastating strike on an apartment building over the weekend.
Reznikov also reiterated the need for main battle tanks, describing such heavy weaponry as critical to protecting the lives of Ukrainian soldiers and conducting counter-offensives against Russian forces.
“The main difference between the armed forces of Ukraine and the Russian armed forces is that we are trying to save the lives of our defenders and don’t use them as cannon fodder as the Russians do,” he said in Ukrainian.
“Therefore, for us, it’s crucial to provide our armed forces with so-called armoured fists, which will breach the positions of the Russian Federation armed forces during counter offensive and will save the lives of our defenders.”
Allies have been wrestling with whether to send tanks to Ukraine. Among them is Germany, which is facing pressure to not only send some of its Leopard 2 tanks to Ukraine, but to allow other countries that operate the same tanks to do the same.
That would include Canada, which has 112 Leopard 2s in several configurations in use by the Canadian Armed Forces. The tanks were acquired from Germany in 2007, during the height of the war in Afghanistan.
Reznikov said Finland and Poland had both indicated their plan to send Leopard 2s to Ukraine, and he expressed confidence that Berlin would come around when allied defence ministers gather Friday in Germany for a U.S.-led meeting on the war.
Anand would not commit to whether Canada would contribute some of its Leopard 2s if Germany allowed for their re-export, saying only that Ottawa “will continue to provide Ukraine with the aid that it needs to fight and win this war.”
But Prime Minister Justin Trudeau earlier this week did not rule out sending Canadian-owned Leopard 2s to Ukraine if Germany agreed to such a move, saying “We will look at all the requests from Ukraine but we’re not there yet for the Leopard 2 tanks.”
The federal government says Canada has contributed approximately $5 billion in military, financial and humanitarian assistance since Russian forces crossed into Ukraine on Feb. 24, 2022.
Hundreds of Canadian soldiers are also training Ukrainian forces in Britain and Poland.
Anand’s visit to Ukraine came as officials there said the country’s interior minister had died in a helicopter crash near the capital that killed at least another 14 people, including other officials and three children.
Interior Minister Denys Monastyrskyi oversaw Ukraine’s police and emergency services. He is the most senior official to die since Russia invaded nearly 11 months ago.
His death was the second calamity in four days to clobber Ukraine, after a Russian missile strike on an apartment building killed dozens of civilians.
There was no immediate word on whether Wednesday’s crash was an accident or related to the war. No fighting has been reported recently in the Kyiv area.
The apartment building strike and other attacks on civilians have helped stiffen international support for Ukraine as it battles to fend off the Kremlin’s invasion. The winter has brought a slowdown in fighting, but military analysts say a new push by both sides is likely once the weather improves.
—Lee Berthiaume, The Canadian Press