"Who controls the past controls the future: who controls the present controls the past." ~ George Orwell
The Canadian government recently expanded Operation Unifier. The military training mission has been an important element in an escalatory dynamic that needs to be reversed to end the horrors in Ukraine.
Alongside a new donation of AIM-9 missiles and ammunition, last week defence minister Anita Anand announced that Canada would send five more medical trainers to Poland. They will join seven others dispatched there last month to assist with medical skills training for the Ukrainian Forces. They will join other Canadian troops in Poland training Ukrainians to use Leopard tanks. Three weeks ago, Canada began training Ukrainian officers in Latvia where Canada has led a NATO mission for six years. In August Operation Unifier was restarted in the UK after the training mission was paused just prior to Russia’s illegal February 2022 invasion. In total over 300 Canadian Forces personnel are currently deployed in Europe as part of Unifier.
Between April 2015 and February 2022, 200 Canadian troops – rotated every six months – trained 33,000 Ukrainian soldiers as part of Unifier. Canadian taxpayers spent $890 million on a training mission that began after Ukraine’s military largely collapsed amidst the violence unleashed by the Canadian-backed ouster of elected President Viktor Yanukovych in 2014. Alongside US and UK troops, Canadian soldiers worked with Ukrainian soldiers on tactics, command structures, explosive-device disposal, sniper training, etc. In 2019 former Ukrainian President Petro Poroshenko dubbed former Canadian defence minister Jason Kenney "the godfather of the modern Ukrainian army" due to his role in instigating Unifier.
"The objective was the modernization of their forces with the aim of one day becoming a member of NATO", explained former Unifier commander, Jeffrey Toope, to Le Journal de Montréal recently. In January 2022 La Presse reported that "Canadian training allows Ukrainian forces to practice and do joint maneuvers with NATO."
As part of UNIFIER Canadians trained neo-Nazis. Radio Canada, CTV, and the Ottawa Citizen documented Canadians training members of the Azov Regiment with David Pugliese revealing that when Canadian military officials met leaders of the Azov Battalion in June 2018, they knew the group used the Nazi "Wolfsangel" symbol and praised officials who helped slaughter Jews and Poles during World War II.
Unifier reinforced Ukrainian forces fighting in the east and enabled Kyiv to avoid its commitments under the Minsk II peace accord, which was overseen by France and Germany in February 2015 and endorsed by the United Nations Security Council. When UNIFIER was launched the Russian Embassy in Ottawa released a statement suggesting the training mission would undercut implementation of Minsk II. It noted that "it is neither appropriate, nor helpful to assist the military buildup playing into the hands of ‘party of war in Kiev’", which was Moscow’s pejorative description for the government of Poroshenko who took office after the ouster of Yanukovich. "It would be much more reasonable to concentrate on diplomacy and encourage authorities in Kiev to finally enter into a genuine political dialogue with Donetsk and Lugansk Republics as it was agreed upon in ‘Minsk-2’ accords in February."
Canadian trainers assisted Ukrainian forces fighting in a conflict that saw 14,000 killed in the Donbas before Russia’s brutal invasion. In 2019 Canadian Lieutenant-Colonel Frédérick Côté told a Ukrainian TV channel that the conflict in Donbas was part of the training. "What they tell us [soldiers returning from Donbas] is valuable, because it allows us to make the training more relevant," Côté said.
As a way to minimize direct involvement in fighting, Canadian trainers were initially restricted to the western half of Ukraine. But when the Liberals extended the mission in 2017, they eased restrictions requiring Canadians to stay away from the east and then in September 2020 Canadian special forces were added to the mission in Ukraine.
Through Unifier Canada effectively entered into a low-level proxy war with Russia. Moscow massively expanded that conflict 15 months ago. Ottawa has responded in kind. Over the past 15 months Canada has pumped in $2 billion in arms, provided intelligence assistance, promoted former soldiers fighting and expanded military training. Rather than question whether Unifier – as well as promoting NATO expansion and helping oust Yanukovich – contributed to the current horrors western governments celebrate it. During her speech to the House of Commons in March European Union head Ursula von der Leyen praised Unifier while Foundation for Defense of Democracies Russia Fellow Peter Doran recently opined, "Operation Unifier is one of the great stories of freedom in our time."
Imagine seeing the images of Bakhmut and concluding that measures leading to its devastation represented freedom?
But those in charge in Ottawa apparently agree. They are expanding Operation Unifier while refusing to support any push for a truce or peace negotiations.
Yves Engler’s latest book is Stand on Guard for Whom?: A People’s History of the Canadian Military.