Defence Minister Anita Anand got an updated assessment of Ukraine’s military needs during a meeting with the embattled country’s defence minister Monday.
And while neither Ukraine nor the federal government is saying exactly what Oleksii Reznikov asked of Canada — over and above the package of non-lethal equipment promised by Ottawa last week — there was an air of urgency to their in-person meeting as western nations and the Ukrainian government continue to disagree publicly over whether Russian military action is imminent.
Global Affairs Canada announced Sunday it was pulling all non-essential staff out of the Canadian embassy in Kyiv.
In Kyiv Monday for a whirlwind diplomatic visit, Anand would not say what prompted the further evacuation. Some families of Canadian diplomats were pulled out of Ukraine last week.
Ukraine continues to ask the international community for defensive weapons.
The United States last week delivered 79 tons of security aid to Ukraine — the third such package to arrive in recent weeks. The first batch of equipment, which arrived on January 22, included 90 tons of lethal weapons and ammunition.
“Ukraine needs defence weapons to strengthen its ability to resist external aggression and deter Russia from power gambling,” said a summary statement released by Ukrainian President Volodomyr Zelensky’s office. “Thus, increasing Ukraine’s military force strengthens its negotiating position and reduces the risks of further military escalation.”
Canada’s promised aid package — some of which has arrived in Ukraine already — includes non-lethal equipment and an expansion and extension of the military training mission.
Anand said she has placed no restrictions on what Ukraine can ask of Canada — and weapons shipments are still an option.
Ukraine appears to have given her a clear assessment of its needs. Anand said she needs to take that list back to cabinet.
“It would be prudent in light of the very intense and sensitive security situation at the current time to discuss that first with my counterparts in cabinet and with the prime minister,” Anand said.
Ukraine already has a healthy arms industry with sales that topped $1.3 billion (US) last year — a 24 per cent increase in one year. But defence experts say the country does not possess high-end military equipment and needs anti-aircraft weapons.
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Anand said that, while she couldn’t get into specifics, she and Reznikov “discussed cyber security in particular and how important it is to make sure cyber networks are secure.”
The Ukrainian government was hit by a massive cyber attack recently. Canada’s current aid package includes a promise to share with Ukraine the expertise of the Communications Security Establishment (CSE), Canada’s signals intelligence and cybersecurity agency.
Global Affairs Canada also was hit by a massive cyber attack a week ago, while Foreign Affairs Minister Melanie Joly was conducting a round of diplomacy in Ukraine. Federal officials have not pointed the finger at Russia or at Moscow-backed private hackers.
Anand, who is the minister responsible for CSE, wasn’t prepared to assign blame when asked about it Monday, saying only that she remains concerned about Canada’s cyber defences.
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