Canada, the United States and Britain should jointly and swiftly provide military support to Ukraine in its stalemate with Russia, Ukraine’s defense minister said in an interview, warning that measures to deter the Russian President Vladimir Putin to invade were now necessary because “it will be too late after.”
Oleksii Reznikov said he detected a split in the NATO military alliance over the distance to go to support Ukraine. Canada, the United States and Britain were more willing to challenge Mr Putin’s aggressive behavior, he said, while countries like Germany and France were hesitant because they feared to maintain their economic relations with Russia.
Mr Reznikov, who was appointed Minister of Defense last month by President Volodymyr Zelensky, called on “the Anglo-Saxon allies” to act outside the North Atlantic Treaty Organization, if necessary, in providing arms and other support to the Ukrainian army. He said Ukraine’s ground forces were ready for battle, but the country needed to immediately improve its air, naval and electronic warfare capabilities in the face of the threat posed by the massive Russian military force amassed near Ukraine’s borders. .
Ukraine, he said, needed a “swift response” from its allies that would help address the lack of anti-aircraft missiles, modern warplanes and naval devices, as well. as electronic jamming equipment. But equally important, he said, would be the Canadian, American and British soldiers visibly deployed to positions near the front line.
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“You have a training program with us in Ukraine. I think we can extend it. Instead of having 50 [military] instructors, send 500 instructors, ”he said, referring to the Canadian training mission of 200 soldiers already deployed in the country. Operation Unify, as it is known, is based in Yavoriv, in the far west of Ukraine, more than 1,000 kilometers from the Russian border.
These troops should be deployed to places where Russia can see them, Reznikov said. “It would be nice if the Canadian instructors … scale the Russian assault.”
“With guys from the UK, with guys from the US, in bilateral platforms, without NATO. Three flags – the Flag of Canada, the Flag of the United States and the Flag of the United Kingdom – are expected to fly around these territories. It would also be a good sign for the Russians – if you were here. “
Military support should be provided in tandem with new economic sanctions targeting the personal property of Mr Putin and those around him, Mr Reznikov said. US President Joe Biden said on Friday he was preparing an unspecified package of measures that “would make it very, very difficult for Mr. Putin to move forward and do what people fear he is doing” . Mr Biden and Mr Putin are expected to discuss the Ukraine crisis during a phone call on Tuesday.
Mr Reznikov’s public demand for Canada, the United States and Britain to support Ukraine outside of NATO comes two days after his one-on-one meeting with the head of state- Defense Major of Canada, General Wayne Eyre, who visited Kiev this week. Mr Reznikov said he also had a call with Defense Secretary Anita Anand on Friday, as well as recent conversations with UK Defense Secretary Ben Wallace and US Defense Secretary Lloyd Austin.
Speaking on Thursday ahead of his meeting with Mr Reznikov, General Eyre told the Globe he was concerned that any new Canadian or Western military support for Ukraine could incite, rather than deter, Mr Putin.
The Russian leader has repeatedly said that any expansion of NATO infrastructure in Ukraine would cross a “red line” and pose a threat to Russian security. During his call with Mr Biden, Mr Putin is expected to seek a legally binding guarantee that Ukraine will never join the alliance of 30 countries led by the United States.
NATO has expanded eastward several times since the end of the Cold War, absorbing states that once relied on Moscow. NATO Secretary General Jens Stoltenberg said Russia could never veto countries joining the 30-member alliance.
Mr Reznikov, however, said Berlin and Paris were the real obstacles to Ukraine’s invitation to join. “Unfortunately, Germany and France are very pragmatic. They want to be close friends of the Russians. They do business with them, ”he said, referring to the Nord Stream 2 pipeline that will transport Russian natural gas directly to a German port, thus eliminating Ukraine’s long-standing role as a country of transit. Construction of the US $ 11 billion pipeline has been completed, although the certification process was suspended last month by the German regulator.
“I think the Anglo-Saxon allies are more realistic and understand all the risks,” Reznikov said, adding that Poland and Lithuania were also strong supporters of Ukraine due to their own histories with Russia. .
Sergey Markov, a former Kremlin adviser, told The Globe that in addition to the NATO guarantee, Mr Putin would call for an immediate halt to US and UK work to modernize Ukrainian naval bases in Ochakiv, on the black Sea. Mr Markov said the redesign would allow Ochakiv to accommodate US warships, making it a NATO facility. Britain is also helping to build a Ukrainian naval base at Berdyansk, on the Sea of Azov, a body of water now completely dominated by the Russian Navy.
Mr Markov said that Mr Putin also wants to see changes in Ukraine’s constitution in order to protect the interests of the Russian-speaking population of the country. Mr Markov admitted that neither the Ukrainian government nor its Western allies were likely to accept such demands, making conflict “a real possibility”.
“The choice Putin faces is that if he waits, Russia’s security situation will continue to change negatively,” Markov said in a telephone interview. “Better war now. The war later is worse.
Mr Reznikov told The Globe that there are currently 94,300 Russian troops positioned within 200 kilometers of Ukraine’s borders, including in occupied Crimea – a number that rose to 105,000 if you include those less than 200 kilometers from Ukraine. of 300 kilometers. According to Ukrainian intelligence sources, these troops are supported by some 1,200 tanks, 330 military planes and more than 80 warships and submarines.
Russia says build-up is necessary because it has intelligence suggesting Ukraine was preparing to take back by force the southeastern Donbass region – which has been under the control of a Moscow-backed militia since 2014 – by force. Mr Reznikov dismissed Russia’s claim as propaganda and said Ukraine is committed to peacefully reuniting the country, rather than launching attacks on towns where hundreds of thousands of its citizens live. .
More than 13,000 people have been killed in seven years of fighting in Donbass, although the front lines have remained largely stagnant since a 2015 peace deal that the two sides accuse each other of violating on a daily basis.
Mr Reznikov said troops stationed in Donbass were ordered not to respond immediately to attacks across the front line for fear of being drawn into a provocation that could be used to justify a Russian invasion. Instead, they were to first call in observers from the Organization for Security and Co-operation in Europe who could record that the “separatists” had started firing before Ukrainian forces responded.
He said he believed Mr Putin had not yet decided whether to invade, but instead was monitoring the reaction of Ukraine and its allies to Russia’s rise to power.
Ihor Michalchyshyn, executive director of the Ukrainian Canadian Congress lobby group, said Canada and NATO were playing Mr. Putin’s game if they gave up on providing military aid to Ukraine for fear of provoking the Russian leader . “Canada and our NATO allies must strengthen the deterrence against a further invasion of Ukraine by significantly increasing sanctions against Russia and expanding military aid to Ukraine so that Ukraine is better able to defend themselves, ”Michalchyshyn said. “Now is the time to do it. “