Canada to extend military training mission in Ukraine: source

OTTAWA (Reuters) - Canada will announce as expected on Monday that it is extending a 200-strong military training mission in Ukraine, a source directly familiar with the matter said on Sunday.

Canadian military instructors and Ukrainian servicemen take part in a military exercise at the International Peacekeeping and Security Center in Yavoriv, Ukraine, July 12, 2016. REUTERS/Gleb Garanich

Foreign Minister Chrystia Freeland and Defence Minister Harjit Sajjan are scheduled to hold a news conference at 1 p.m. (1800 GMT) on Monday.

“It is the Ukraine extension,” said the source, who requested anonymity given the sensitivity of the situation.

A spokeswoman for Sajjan declined to comment, while representatives for Freeland did not reply to requests for comment.

The troops, who first went to Ukraine in 2015, are due out at the end of March. Political and military sources had made clear the soldiers would stay longer, given continuing tensions between Ukraine and Russia.

Canada will not be sending any additional trainers, the source added.

The House of Commons defense committee recommended last December that Ottawa expand the mission, a message that Ukraine’s ambassador to Canada subsequently stressed in interviews with Canadian media.

Canada’s defense ministry said in December that the contingent had trained more than 10,000 members of the Ukrainian security forces.

The Canadian contingent is in western Ukraine, far removed from clashes between Ukrainian soldiers and Russian-backed separatists in the east of the country.

Freeland, a vocal critic of Russia’s move to annex Crimea in early 2014, said in a statement on Saturday that “we continue to condemn this violation of Ukraine’s sovereignty and territorial integrity in the strongest terms.”

Canada, the United States and the European Union on Friday imposed new sanctions on a number of Russian officials to punish Moscow for its 2018 attack on three Ukrainian ships and the seizure of Crimea, which had been part of Ukraine.

The Canadian trainers are in Ukraine as part of a larger mission that involves the United States, Britain, Lithuania, Poland and Sweden.

Reporting by David Ljunggren; Editing by Peter Cooney