KYIV, Ukraine — Stephen Harper arrived in Kyiv early Saturday as Ukraine’s envoy urged the prime minister to push his fellow G7 leaders into a strong political stand against the latest Russian aggression.
But Marko Shevchenko, Ukraine charge d’affaires to Canada, said his country can make do without weapons from the West as he heaped effusive praise on the Canadian efforts to train its military.
“The Canadian government, led by Stephen Harper, is the world leader in providing such non-lethal assistance to Ukraine,” said Shevchenko, referring to the 200 Canadian Forces trainers in Ukraine.
Harper is in a country gripped by renewed violence after 15 months of conflict with neighbouring Russia, which has unilaterally annexed its Crimea region, but his visit won’t take him anywhere near the conflict zone. The crisis is set to dominate discussion between Harper and his fellow G7 leaders at their summit in Germany’s secluded Bavarian alps starting Sunday.
Harper begins a week of European travel in a country that holds domestic political implications for him in an election year with 1.2 million Canadians claiming Ukrainian heritage. The president of the influential Ukrainian Canadian Congress travelled on Harper’s plane to Kyiv.
Harper will be in Poland next week, a country that has a Canadian diaspora of about one million.
Shevchenko said more sanctions would be one measure that Harper and his fellow G7 leaders might come up with in response to Russia’s latest provocation.
But he said it isn’t necessary for Canada or its allies to provide lethal military assistance to Ukraine forces.
“We understand this is a sensitive question. We understand it should be a consensus among our western allies and partners,” Shevchenko said.
Harper said as much Thursday when asked whether he thought Ukrainian forces should be given weapons by the West. “That would obviously be a decision that would only be made in concert with our allies.”
Five Ukrainian troops were killed Wednesday in a violent outbreak that witnesses say involved the deployment of heavy artillery on the Russian side — an apparent violation of the earlier Minsk ceasefire agreement between the two countries.
Reports on the number of Russian-backed rebels killed vary considerably. Donetsk-based rebels reportedly said 14 of their troops were killed; the Ukrainian military said their enemy’s death toll was 80.
Shevchenko said the expertise of Canadian military trainers comes from the country’s extensive combat experience in Afghanistan, and far outstrips the capability of his country’s own forces.
“The Canadian Armed Forces has big experience in contemporary war,” he said. “Ukrainian forces didn’t have such experience until last year.”
The Ukrainian military needed tactical training to overcome initial problems in that area, said Shevchenko.
“We need to instruct many soldiers, who yesterday were businessmen, managers, lawyers, etc.”
Ukraine is experiencing a new flashpoint in what has been an uneasy ceasefire with the outbreak of hostilities between Ukraine forces and Russian-backed rebels this week.
Harper meets Saturday with President Petro Poroshenko and Prime Minister Arseniy Yatsenyu on what will be his third visit to Ukraine since the outbreak of violence last year.
Poroshenko told his country’s parliament this week that a “colossal threat of the resumption of large-scale hostilities by Russian and terrorist forces” loomed in his country’s east.
He said there are now 9,000 Russian troops in the rebel-controlled area.
Harper and his fellow G7 leaders will discuss how to best continue supporting Ukraine, including helping it meet its energy security needs, said Harper’s spokesman Stephen Lecce.
Canada is also giving financial assistance to Ukraine to help it build its struggling economy, which has been beset by corruption. Canada’s help includes $202 million in development assistance and $400 million in low-interest loans.
“We see a necessity to support Ukraine financially, and it’s not only just paying for their gas bill, the economy is a mess,” said one senior European G7 government official, who spoke on the condition that they or their government not be named.
The official said the way Russia acts has contributed to problems in Ukraine, but the country needs to clean up its own corruption and mismanagement problems.
“The problems in Ukraine were there long before. They messed up this Orange Revolution and Mr. Poroshenko finds it very difficult.”
Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe also planned his own pre-G7 visit to Ukraine.
Mike Blanchfield, The Canadian Press