Canada to send 200 military trainers to Ukraine, says risk low

OTTAWA (Reuters) - Canada, following in the steps of the United States and Britain, will send around 200 troops to Ukraine to help train soldiers who are battling Russian-backed separatists, Ottawa said on Tuesday.

Canada's Prime Minister Stephen Harper (R), with Canada's Chief of the Defence Staff General Tom Lawson, announces military support for Ukraine during a news conference in Ottawa April 14, 2015. REUTERS/Blair Gable

The Conservative government stressed the troops would be based far from clashes that have taken place in the east of the country, and said Canada would not provide weapons to Ukraine unless other major allies also agreed to do so.

The Canadian trainers will be based in western Ukraine until March 31, 2017, most of them working in the Yavoriv training center near the border with Poland. The government said it expects them to arrive in Ukraine over the next few months.

“Their activities will include explosive ordnance disposal and improvised explosive device disposal training, military police training, medical training, flight safety training, and logistics system modernization training,” Prime Minister Stephen Harper said in a statement.

The United States and Britain already have military trainers in place in Ukraine.

Harper has taken a hard line in public against Russian President Vladimir Putin over what he calls blatant Russian interference in Ukraine. Canada has announced several rounds of sanctions against Russian and Ukrainian companies and individuals.

Defence Minister Jason Kenney, pressed repeatedly about the possible risks to the mission, said the Yavoriv base was around 1,300 km (810 miles) from the fighting.

“These Canadian armed forces personnel will not be going anywhere remotely close to the conflict zone in eastern Ukraine,” he told a news conference.

Last August, Canada said it would provide Ukraine with non lethal equipment such as helmets, protective vests and tents to help secure the country’s unstable eastern region.

In February, Ukrainian President Petro Poroshenko called on NATO states to send weapons. Kenney said Canada had discussed the idea with the United States, Britain and Germany.

“It’s our government’s view that Canada cannot and should not act alone in that respect but that we are leaving all options on the table,” he said.

The cost of the first year’s training will be around C$13 million ($10.4 million), he said.

Reporting by David Ljunggren; Editing by Peter Galloway