Marco Levytsky, NP-UN National Affairs Editor.
Canada is leading a diplomatic push to get international support behind a peacekeeping force to monitor the ongoing conflict in Donbas.
“Around the world Canada has been leading conversations with a number of countries about the viability and utility of peacekeeping and policing in Ukraine. The Prime Minister has raised the issue with the President of Ukraine and with the Chancellor of Germany,” said Foreign Affairs Minister Chrystia Freeland on November 9.
“I have personally explored the feasibility and prospects of such a mission with the President and the Prime Minister of Ukraine, with the US Secretary of State, with US Special Envoy Kurt Volker, and with the UN Secretary General last week. In recent weeks, I have spoken to several European governments and touched on this important issue with all of them.
“Our government has been at the heart of international efforts to support Ukraine and we are working hard to ensure any peacekeeping effort guarantees Ukraine’s sovereignty and territorial integrity. The Canada-led multinational battlegroup in Latvia, as part of NATO’s enhanced Forward Presence, is an example of Canada’s leadership and ongoing commitment to regional security.
“The people of Ukraine can count on the continued and unwavering friendship and support of Canada,” she added in a statement posted by Global Affairs Canada.
That same day Defence Minister Harjit Sajjan, while avoiding a question whether he was prepared to endorse a Conservative proposal for Canada to lead such a mission, nevertheless expressed “cautious optimism” about the proposal.
“What we support is President Poroshenko’s proposal that respects their borders and making sure that a mission itself is going to operate. We have cautious optimism moving forward,” he said.
When asked in follow-up question what he meant by “cautious optimism”, Sajjan said: “We’ve been discussing the peacekeeping proposal with (Ukrainian) President (Petro) Poroshenko when he actually came for a visit and I’ve been discussing it with the allies as well but we need to take the time to work out the details to make sure any type of proposal is to the benefit of Ukraine itself. That’s one of the reasons why our engagement and what we’ve been doing not just strictly from the military but a whole of government perspective is about bringing more stability to Ukraine and for stability as well.”
Sajjan declined to answer whether Canada will reveal its peacekeeping plan during a summit it is hosting in Vancouver the following week but stated that “what we’re trying to do in Vancouver is create an opportunity to increase the conversation about conflict itself to allow for the conversation about a new initiative…
“This is not the peacekeeping of the past. We need to make sure we’ve got a robust enough mandate. Troop contributing nations are coming properly trained, that they have the right equipment. We need to make sure the right mandates are there.”
Earlier that day, Conservative Party Leader Andrew Scheer announced that a future Conservative government will advocate and lead a United Nations peacekeeping mission in Ukraine.
“Conservatives support Canada’s leadership and participation in a United Nations peacekeeping mission in eastern Ukraine, in accordance with the requests made by the Ukrainian government,” said Scheer. “Canada staunchly supported the people of Ukraine when their territorial integrity was threatened more than three years ago and the duty to support and protect free and sovereign peoples does not diminish with time.“
Joined by Shadow Minister for National Defence James Bezan, Scheer outlined the principles on which any peacekeeping deployment should be established.
“Any deployment of Canadian soldiers as peacekeepers must be consistent with our interests, and in keeping with our greatest traditions of offering a hand to those seeking peace, freedom and security,” said Scheer.
“This mission would allow Ukraine to restore control over its eastern border with Russia, ensuring the Russian military stays within its own country, and out of Ukraine,” he added.
“The defense of Ukraine’s sovereignty and territorial integrity should be a priority for Canada’s government on the international stage,” said Scheer. “Now is the time to act.”
During his Brussels teleconference, Sajjan was asked by Maxim Maliczako from what was identified as “News Agency of Ukraine” in the official transcript, whether he was satisfied with the progress of the reforms in Ukraine.
Sajjan said: “We’re very happy with the progress to date especially when it comes to the training mission (Operation Unifier). We looked at how we can coordinate the greater support, update each other on what each nation is doing. We do have representatives from our respective nations working with the Ministry of Defence on this.
“Having said this there’s a lot of work that needs to be done. That’s why we’re working very closely with Minister Poltorak and other government representatives on how we can move forward. We discussed how important the reforms are to the nation because as the reforms progress it allows us to evolve and increase our contribution and training as well.”