KYIV, Ukraine — Prime Minister Justin Trudeau says Canada is standing by Ukraine in its struggle against Russia, but he won’t be pinned down on whether it will continue supplying troops to train Ukraine’s military.
During a joint news conference Monday in Kyiv to mark the signing of a Canada-Ukraine free trade deal, Ukrainian President Petro Poroshenko said he has asked for 200 Canadian military trainers to remain in the country past March 2017.
That’s when the current mission near the western city of Lviv is set to expire.
Canada will co-ordinate with its allies in supporting Ukraine, said Trudeau, who noted that the training mission is giving “significant support” to the Ukrainian military as it seeks to defend and reclaim territory lost to rebels in the east.
“We are right now focused on the training mission that is going so well for both Canadians and especially for the Ukrainian military,” he said.
“As the situation evolves, we will continue to monitor and look at the best way we can continue to support and help Ukraine and we will do so in the spirit of collaboration and friendship that has always existed between Canada and Ukraine.”
Meanwhile, both Trudeau and Poroshenko slammed Russia for not living up to its commitments to a peace deal intended to bring an end to fighting in eastern Ukraine.
Some European allies have grown impatient that Ukraine is not doing enough to implement its commitments in the Minsk peace agreement with the rebels and Russia, with warnings they may not renew sanctions against the latter.
Russia seized Crimea from Ukraine two years ago, and has supported separatist rebels in eastern Ukraine.
“It is obvious that Ukraine has made some extremely important and difficult steps in Parliament and in their institutions to live up to their responsibilities on Minsk. And it’s also quite clear that on the security side of the Minsk implementation, Russia has not been a positive partner,” Trudeau said.
“They have not been moving responsibly or appropriately on things like ceasefires or international observers, and we are very hopeful that continued international unity and clarity around the expectations that we advance with Minsk are going to continue to put the necessary pressure on Russia to follow the process and act on the security concerns.”
For his part, Poroshenko said Ukraine has fulfilled 95 per cent of its political obligations and all of its security requirements under the agreement.
“With that situation, it is vitally important for us that Russia meet the security criteria for launching the political process. This is Russia who should make a disengagement. This is Russia who should remove the heavy artillery, weapons, multi-rocket launch systems, tanks, from their front lines.”
The free trade deal signed Monday between Canada and Ukraine isn’t the biggest for either country, but it is seen as politically important given Ukraine’s efforts to escape from Russia’s influence.
Ukrainian officials are also hoping it will spark an influx of Canadian investment for their country’s struggling economy.
Later Monday, Trudeau is scheduled to visit the Maidan, Ukraine’s independence square, where popular protests in early 2014 forced the previous pro-Russian president from power and ushered in what Ukrainians hope is a new era. More than 100 people were killed in clashes between police and demonstrators.
Earlier, Trudeau and his oldest son Xavier paid tribute to the victims of mass atrocities in Ukraine, visiting several memorials dedicated to Ukrainians who were killed by the Nazis and Soviets.
Remembrance has emerged as key feature during Trudeau’s trip to Eastern Europe, which included attending the NATO leaders’ summit in Warsaw before visiting the infamous Auschwitz-Birkenau concentration camp on Sunday.