The deployment of a small unit from the Canadian Special Operations Regiment comes after diplomatic talks aimed at averting an armed conflict in Ukraine broke down last week, while an estimated 100,000 Russian troops remain camped near the Ukrainian border. Russia denies it is preparing to attack the country. However, the Kremlin has said it could take military action unless the West agrees to a list of security demands including the withdrawal of all NATO troops from countries neighbouring Russia and banning Ukraine from ever joining the military alliance.
Negotiations between the US and Russia in Geneva and a meeting between Russia and NATO in Brussels both ended without breakthrough last week after the US and its allies resolutely rejected the Kremlin’s demands.
Kyiv has asked Western countries for arms to help defend itself after negotiations failed to de-escalate tensions along the border.
The United Kingdom has already begun supplying Ukraine with anti-tank weapons, the first delivery having arrived in the country on Monday. Defence Secretary Ben Wallace told MPs on Monday that a small number of British personnel would also be deployed to provide training.
The Canadian special operations contingent is reportedly also part of the attempt by NATO allies to deter Russian aggression and support the Ukrainian government, according to Canada’s Global News.
A spokesperson for the Canadian Special Operations Forces Command said that they could not confirm forces had been deployed, however they said they had been involved in Canada’s broader assistance to the country since 2020.
NATO Secretary General Jens Stoltenberg, who chaired the bilateral meeting in Brussels, told reporters after the talks that there was “a real risk for new armed conflict in Europe”.
He said that there had been “a very serious and direct exchange” between Russian delegates and NATO allies during the talks, and that there were “significant differences” on the issue of Ukraine potentially joining the alliance.
Speaking after negotiations in Geneva, US Deputy Secretary of State Wendy Sherman said that some of Russian President Vladimir Putin’s demands were “non-starters”.
“We will not slam the door shut on NATO’s open-door policy”, she told reporters in Geneva. “We are not going to agree that NATO cannot expand any further.”
However, Ms Sherman said she was optimistic after Moscow did not reject the idea of further diplomatic talks in the future.
Canada’s foreign minister, Mélanie Joly, travelled to Kyiv on Sunday for a week-long visit to “reaffirm Canada’s steadfast support for Ukraine’s sovereignty and territorial integrity” and to deter Russia’s “aggressive actions”.
“The amassing of Russian troops and equipment in and around Ukraine jeopardises security in the entire region,” Ms Joly said in a statement.
“These aggressive actions must be deterred. Canada will work with its international partners to uphold the rules-based international order and preserve the human rights and dignity of Ukrainians.”
The Canadian foreign minister is due to hold bilateral talks with Ukrainian Prime Minister Denys Shmyhal and Deputy Prime Minister Olga Stefanishyna as well as Canadian armed forces deployed in the country. Ms Joly will later travel to Paris and Brussels to meet with her European counterparts and NATO’s Stoltenberg among others.
Officials from the US and Canada spoke by phone last Thursday, according to a statement from US State Department spokesperson Ned Price, to discuss rising tensions on the Ukrainian border with Russia.
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US Deputy of State Wendy Sherman and Canadian Deputy Foreign Minister Marta Morgan had “pledged continued close coordination to deter further Russian aggression against Ukraine” and “called for Russian de-escalation and underscored their shared commitment to diplomacy.”
According to US officials, Ms Morgan also agreed that “further Russian invasion of Ukraine would result in massive consequences and severe costs including coordinated, restrictive economic measures for the Russian Federation.”
The international community has become increasingly concerned in recent weeks that a Russian invasion into Ukraine could be imminent. White House national security adviser Jake Sullivan said on Thursday that the threat of a Russian military invasion of Ukraine was “high” and that the US and its allies were prepared for “any contingency”.
“We’re prepared to continue with diplomacy to advance security and stability in the Euro Atlantic. We are equally prepared if Russia chooses a different path,” Sullivan said.
Tensions have heightened between Russia and Ukraine since 2014, when Russia took control of Crimea in 2014 and backed separatists in eastern Ukraine. Fighting there has since killed more than 14,000 people and devastated Ukraine’s industrial region known as the Donbas.