Ukrainian Defence Minister Oleksii Reznikov thanked Canada on Wednesday for its donation of 200 additional armoured personnel carriers – but made it clear that his country’s biggest need remains main battle tanks.
Speaking alongside Defence Minister Anita Anand, who was in Kyiv for a working visit, Mr. Reznikov thanked Canada for the Senator APCs, “which will protect our warriors.” He said the vehicles were part of a “very important” package of assistance that also included Canada’s recent purchase of a National Advanced Surface-to-Air Missile System, or NASAMS, for Ukraine.
But Mr. Reznikov’s focus was on a Friday meeting of Ukraine’s allies in Ramstein, Germany, where he said he was “quite optimistic” that the government of German Chancellor Olaf Scholz would lift its objection to the re-export of German-made Leopard 2 battle tanks.
When countries sell weapons to other countries, they normally insist on an end-use declaration to verify that the buyer is the final user of the weapons and does not intend to transfer them to another country or use them for another purpose. This means that Germany would have to approve any request from Canada to ship its Leopard 2 tanks to Ukraine.
Canada possesses about 90 of the tanks, and the government of Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky is planning to ask Ottawa to deliver some of them as soon as Berlin allows such transfers. Germany has thus far resisted pressure to sign off on the re-export of the tanks – specifically from Poland and Finland, which have said they are ready to send some of their own Leopards to Ukraine as soon as Berlin gives the green light – out of concern that the arrival of NATO tanks on the battlefield could escalate the 329-day-old war.
Mr. Reznikov said former German defence minister Christine Lambrecht had told him that her country was ready to allow the re-export of Leopard 2 tanks once other NATO allies began sending heavy armour to Ukraine. Britain did just that over the weekend when Prime Minister Rishi Sunak announced his country would hand over 14 of its Challenger 2 tanks.
Ms. Lambrecht’s replacement, Boris Pistorius, takes over the job on Thursday and will immediately be pressed to make a decision about the Leopards.
“From my personal point of view, Germany has no arguments not to be in a hurry with the Leopards, because nowadays, the ball is on their part of the field,” Mr. Reznikov said, adding that NATO-standard tanks would allow Ukraine to go on the offensive and drive Russian troops out of Ukrainian territory.
“I’m quite optimistic about this matter. And I have a strong hope that during the Ramstein meeting, me and Ms. Anita, we will have an opportunity to get to know the newly appointed Minister of Defence of Germany and probably we will hear about from him about the new position of Germany and this position will be on behalf of Ukraine.”
Ms. Anand was more guarded in her remarks, saying she had “no news” about Canada potentially sending tanks to Ukraine. “Rest assured, I will continue to be in touch with Minister Reznikov frequently, including at Friday’s meeting of the Defence Contact Group in Germany,” she said, adding that “Canada will continue to provide Ukraine with the aid that it needs to fight and win this war.”
Andrew Leslie, a former commander of the Canadian Army who was also a Liberal member of Parliament, said Ukraine sorely needs tanks.
But, he added, he is not confident Ottawa has surplus tanks to lend Ukraine.
On paper, at least, Canada has more than 90 Leopard tanks, he noted.
But Mr. Leslie said he’s been told only about 20 are functioning. “The rest are either in storage or they are waiting for spare parts to be fixed.”
He said the Canadian Army needs a minimum of 30 to 35 tanks for training. He said this scarcity means Canada has no tanks to spare.
Mr. Leslie said that for many years the government has failed to spend all the money allocated each year for defence equipment acquisition.
Ms. Anand said the provision of the 200 Senator APCs – which are made by Mississauga-based Roshel – was proof of that commitment. The vehicles can carry eight soldiers as well as the driver and a front-seat passenger. There is also room for a gunner.
“I have heard repeatedly that Ukrainian troops appreciate their manoeuvrability and their adaptability. The vehicles offer state-of-the-art, best-in-class technology, and weapons can easily be mounted on them,” Ms. Anand said.
“On this difficult day for Ukraine, our friends continue to support us,” Mr. Zelensky later wrote on Twitter, referring to a helicopter crash near Kyiv on Wednesday that killed at least 14 people, including Interior Minister Denys Monastyrskyi. “Today the Ukrainian army needs 200 Senator APCs more than ever. Together we are moving towards victory!”
It’s expected that all 200 vehicles – which can help transport troops to the front line and assist in medical evacuations – will be shipped to Ukraine by the summer. Canada previously donated a combination of eight Senator APCs and other armoured vehicles purchased from Roshel. That assistance was announced last April, and the vehicles were delivered the following month.
The latest donation will cost more than $90-million and comes out of a $500-million tranche of military assistance announced in November. Much of the rest of the money was spent on the NASAMS, as well as an unspecified number of accompanying air-defence missiles.
Ms. Anand said Canada was standing by Ukraine because “we are seeing democracy under threat. And we are seeing the international rules-based order under threat like it has never been under threat before.”
But she did not provide a direct answer when asked by The Globe and Mail whether Canada owed any assistance to the families of Canadian citizens killed in action after volunteering to help defend Ukraine. On Sunday, Grygorii Tsekhmistrenko, a 28-year-old combat medic, became the third Canadian killed in the war when he and his team were ambushed near the front-line city of Bakhmut. Three other members of the International Legion for the Defence of Ukraine were wounded in the attack.
After Joseph Hildebrand, a 33-year-old Canadian military veteran, was killed in November – also near Bakhmut – his family complained about a lack of official assistance repatriating his remains.
Ms. Anand said only that Canada continues to advise against all travel to Ukraine, adding: “My thoughts are with the family and the loved ones of this Canadian who has lost his life.”
Mr. Reznikov was more effusive. “I would like to express gratitude to those Canadians who consider their personal involvement in what is happening in Ukraine to be important.” In response to a question about repatriating the remains of fallen Canadians, he said his government was “ready to support and assist in any way.”
MARK MACKINNON, SENIOR INTERNATIONAL CORRESPONDENT
STEVEN CHASE, SENIOR PARLIAMENTARY REPORTER
The Globe and Mail, January 18, 2023