Vladimir Putin, a former colonel in the Russian KGB, is back at it. He seems to be falling back on the old tactics and espionage that he had perfected during the Cold War era under the banner of the Soviet Union. From his role as the director of the Federal Security Services in unofficially supporting the Federal Republic of Yugoslavia in Kosovo in 1999, to his involvement in the Russo-Georgian War in 2008 as the Russian prime minister, it is clear that Mr. Putin misses the old days and intends to reclaim as much as possible since the fall of his beloved Soviet Union.
His latest endeavor seems to be reclaiming Ukraine, as if the Russians didn’t do enough to the Ukrainians during the Holodomor. He has been somewhat successful in his campaign against Ukraine, already staking claim to Crimea, but as with most of his previous attempts to reclaim the past glory of the USSR, he has been met with opposition from the West; primarily by NATO. Canada’s involvement in NATO’s opposition to this renewed Russian aggression has been steadily increasing since the Kosovo conflict, and is at an all-time high as the Canadian Armed Forces prepare to deploy military trainers in support of Ukraine.
Canada has contributed heavily to NATO interoperability training in Eastern Europe through Operation REASSURANCE. This training is being conducted to assist in the professionalization of Eastern European NATO-allied countries, increase interoperability, and to serve as a deterrent to the increasing Russian aggression toward former Soviet states. A large portion of these ongoing NATO exercises are being held in the Baltic regions, primarily in Poland, which shares its border with war-torn Ukraine. With strong Russian backing of rebel separatists in Ukraine, the Ukraine military has lost substantial ground in its eastern regions, not to mention the loss of Crimea a little over a year ago. This has led to the Ukrainian government reaching out to the Western world for support, and Canada has answered.
According to Kathryn Blaze Carlson’s article in The Globe and Mail, Canada has long been a supporter of Ukraine, boasting over 1.2 million Ukrainian-Canadians, the third largest Ukrainian population behind Ukraine and Russia. Canada was also the first nation to recognize Ukrainian independence in 1991, and assisted other NATO allies in the construction of the Yavoriv Training Centre (YTC) along the western Ukrainian border. The YTC was constructed by NATO as a peacekeeping training centre in 1991, shortly after Ukrainian independence, but is now used as the country’s largest military training area.
In mid-April, amidst growing tensions between Russia and the West, the U.S. Army expanded their training in the area and deployed the 173rd Airborne Brigade to train Ukrainian forces. Canada was not far behind, announcing that the Canadian Armed Forces would be expanding on their current training mission in the area, Operation REASSURANCE. The Canadians confirmed that they will send 200+ troop trainers to the Yavoriv Training Centre in a non-combat role to assist the Ukrainian effort while maintaining some detachment from the volatile situation in the region.
Their role will be similar to the last four years Canada has spent in Afghanistan under the training mission Operation ATTENTION. The Canadian Armed Forces transitioned from a combat role to a training role in Afghanistan in 2011, and maintained this role until withdrawing in 2014. The troops spent those years acting as trainers whose primary task was to professionalize the Afghan National Army (ANA) and assist in the rebuilding of the state. The skills that the Canadians honed during Operation ATTENTION is similar to what their role will be in western Ukraine.
This time, however, the Canadians will not be able to see their Ukrainian counterparts put their training to use as they did during the Afghanistan mission. There will be no Operational Mentor Liaison Teams or Police Operational Mentor Liaison Teams (OMLT/POMLT) allowed to accompany these soldiers on missions and evaluate the effectiveness of their training. The YTC in which the Canadians will be conducting this training is approximately 1,300 kilometres from the conflict. This is clearly being done to keep Canadians out of further confrontation with Russian-backed forces, while still being able to assist Ukraine. Maintaining a level of separation is essential for a middle power in the emerging conflict between superpowers.
The initial wave of Canadian trainers to the region is set to deploy over the summer of 2015. The deployment will consist primarily of combat arms trades (150 infantry soldiers), the remainder being support staff. This group consist of troops from 2nd Canadian Division out of Petawawa, Ontario and is comprised primarily of combat veterans from the war in Afghanistan who also acted as Kandak trainers in the Kabul Military Training Centre. Their skills and experience will greatly assist them in effectively mentoring the Ukrainians.
The use of special operations forces by the Canadian government has not clearly been addressed as of yet. The ongoing mission conducted by the Canadian Special Operations Regiment (CSOR) to train Kurdish forces in Iraq is still a hot topic among the Canadian public. The idea of using CSOR in Ukraine is not out of the question and could prove very effective. The potential use of other Canadian SOF units such as CJIRU and JTF2 has been ruled out, according to Matthew Fisher’s article in The National Post, due to the fact that the Ukrainian government and its military are believed to have been deeply penetrated by Russian intelligence agencies, and the Canadian government is unwilling to risk giving up our capabilities to the enemy.