Canada is prepared to commit a contingent of soldiers to the British Army’s ambitious program to turn Ukrainian civilians into fighting troops, CBC News has learned.
Outgoing British prime minister Boris Johnson committed to the training plan in mid-June while meeting with Ukrainian President Volodomyr Zelenskyy in Kyiv.
Up to 10,000 Ukrainian soldiers are expected to fly to the U.K. for basic and specialist military in courses that last five weeks. The first tranche of Ukrainian recruits arrived and instruction began in early July.
Three sources who are familiar with the file but not authorized to speak publicly told CBC News that Canada intends to contribute to the British-led effort. Defence Minister Anita Anand is expected to formally announce it today.
The plan amounts to the restart of Operation Unifer, the long-standing training mission which saw —until its suspension last winter — more than 35,000 Ukrainian soldiers given advanced combat instruction by Canadian soldiers.
That mission, conducted on Ukrainian soil, was halted and the troops pulled out of the eastern European country in mid-February on the eve of the full-scale Russian invasion.
It involved about 200 soldiers and included a contingent. Two of the three sources said the latest initiative with the British will “involve roughly the same number.”
A third source was more specific saying the new program will involve three training teams with approximately 60 members each, plus additional command staff.
The Ukrainian government has repeatedly pressed Canada to restart the training in a third country, said diplomatic sources, who spoke separately to CBC News and were granted anonymity because of the sensitivity of the file.
The Liberal government made the training mission, which began under the former Conservative government, a point of pride, and was often pointed to as proof of Canada’s commitment to Ukraine’s security.
Trudeau left door open to particpating in U.K. effort
Asked about Johnson’s training plan at the end of the NATO Summit in June, Prime Minister Justin Trudeau left the door open to participating.
“Canada will continue to look for opportunities to continue to support Ukraine in a range of ways,” he said. “We have actively done training on the howitzers which we did in Latvia [and] we’re looking for other ways as well to be helpful.”
The prime minister was referring to the training that took place last spring after Canada donated four of the army’s 155-millimetre M-777 howitzers to Ukraine.
Before the eruption of full-scale war in Ukraine, Britain separately helped train Ukrainian forces between 2015 and 2022 under the banner of Operation Orbital, putting approximately 22,000 troops through their program.
It also withdrew when Moscow launched its so-called special military operation to overthrow the government in Kyiv.
When the U.K. inaugurated its new training program in early July, it invited allies to participate. In addition to Canada stepping forward, one other unidentified Commonwealth country is expected to join the effort.
British Defence Secretary Ben Wallace visited one of the training areas after the first recruits arrived and lauded the initiative.
“Using the world-class expertise of the British army we will help Ukraine to rebuild its forces and scale up its resistance as they defend their country’s sovereignty and their right to choose their own future,” Wallace was quoted as saying by the British media.