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IN UKRAINE’S MOMENT OF DESPERATION, CANADA HESITATES ON HEAVY WEAPONS

Canada has a stockpile of light armoured vehicles that could be deployed, says former Chief of the Defence Staff, Rick Hillier. ‘It would make a serious difference’

John Ivison

April 18, 2022

National Post

The latest situation report from the Ukrainian government makes grim reading. On the 54th day of opposition to Russia’s invasion, Ukraine is seeing ominous signs of the beginning of a renewed offensive operation in the east of the country. New Russian units are appearing in the Donetsk and Luhansk regions, with the approximate date of formation of April 24th – next Sunday.

The initial fears at the war’s outset were that Russian tanks would quickly break free and roll across the Steppe toward Kyiv. That may yet happen. But the Ukrainians have proven themselves redoubtable opponents, while the Russians have, by all accounts, been inept.

In such circumstances, nothing is clear-cut. The classic, possibly apocryphal, tank commander’s quote applies here: “The 75mm gun is firing, the 37mm gun is firing but is traversed the wrong way. I am saying: ‘Driver advance’ and the driver, who can’t hear me, is reversing. And as I look over the top of the turret and see 12 enemy tanks 50 yards away, someone hands me a cheese sandwich.”

This weekend, I read an account of the experiences of 1st Battalion Royal Scots armoured infantry during Operation Desert Storm in 1991. This was a straightforward land offensive over open, flat terrain conducted by a well-equipped army with overwhelming air supremacy against an enemy that was demoralized and offering no coordinated resistance. It was still confusing and chaotic for the attacking force.

The Russians don’t possess the advantages of superior morale or air power, so the Ukrainians have more than a fighting chance. But, as President Volodymyr Zelenskyy has made clear, they need heavy weapons from the West. And time is of the essence.  President Joe Biden announced a US$800 million package last week, including Howitzers, coastal defence drones and armoured vehicles, with the first wave of weapons to arrive in days.

Canada’s response has been listless. In a letter to Defence Minister Anita Anand late last week, the Ukrainian Canadian Congress expressed its gratitude for the $500 million of military aid announced in the budget but said it was concerned the deployment of the money will take time as the budget winds its way through the legislative process, in the form of the budget implementation act. “This is time the Ukrainian people do not have,” the letter said.

Anand appeared on CTV’s Question Period on Sunday and said her team is working “day and night” to respect Ukraine’s request for weapons. She used the example of Canadian-made cameras for drones as the type of procurement the government is looking at. She was asked specifically if Canada’s existing supply of light armoured vehicles might be an option. “We are examining all possibilities,” she said.

But, as the National Post reported last week, the government’s preferred option is to send new armoured personnel carriers, with Mississauga-based Roshel Smart Armoured Vehicles expected to win the first contract.

The problem with that is that it will take months before any company can ramp up production. Former Chief of the Defence Staff, Rick Hillier, said the government should skip such a “convoluted process” and simply send 250 LAV3s from its current stock of 600 or so, along with spare parts packages and some trainers.  “Why are we not sending them in this moment of desperation?” he asked.

Good question. The alternative course will take weeks, if not months. Hillier said the lack of operational readiness in the Canadian Forces means the army is unlikely to deploy any time soon and it has plenty of LAVs left over. “It would make a serious difference,” he said of donating LAVs to Ukraine’s defence.

The hesitancy is not easily explained. Is there a reticence to send weapons on the political side because of the deal with the NDP? Is the military or its bureaucracy loath to part with any equipment until it can be back-filled? Are there worries about escalation? (The Russians warned on the weekend that shipments of “most sensitive” weapons systems to Ukraine could bring “unpredictable consequences.”)

Whatever the reason, it appears the Ukrainians have given up on us as a serious ally. No wonder. In an interview with his country’s online media, Zelenskyy said that in any peace deal, Ukraine would need security guarantees “not less than those provided by Article 5 of the NATO treaty” from 11 countries, including the five permanent members of the Security Council, Canada, Germany, Italy, Poland, Turkey and Israel.

He was asked which countries are ready to be guarantors and said there are no signatories as yet but the U.K., U.S., Turkey, Italy, Poland, France and Germany have given “demonstrations of readiness”.  “Concerning all other countries named above, we have not yet seen nor received confirmation from them that they are ready to discuss certain parts of the future security memorandum,” he said. This suggests that Canada has not given Ukraine a concrete answer to Zelenskyy’s request that it stand alongside its allies and guarantee the peace. “On behalf of 35 million Canadians, we’re back,” Justin Trudeau proclaimed shortly after taking office in 2015. More accurately, we’re at the back.

John Ivison is a Scottish Canadian journalist and author. He is an Ottawa-based political columnist for the National Post and Ottawa Bureau Chief.  Raised in Dumfries, Scotland, he worked as a reporter for The Scotsman newspaper in Edinburgh and as deputy business editor of Scotland on Sunday. He was educated at the University of Glasgow, McMaster University and the University of Western Ontario, where he earned a Masters of Arts in Journalism