Reforms and defence policy first, weapons later, Canada tells Ukraine

Reforms and defence policy first, weapons later, Canada tells Ukraine

Ukraine needs to carry out deep structural reforms and develop a clear defence policy before it goes on a shopping spree for sophisticated Western and Canadian military equipment.

This was stated by the Canada's Minister of National Defence Harjit Sajjan according to the Radio Canada International.

The issue of Canadian Ukrainian military and defence industry cooperation was one the topics discussed by Prime Minister Justin Trudeau and President Volodymyr Zelenskiy when the two leaders met on the sidelines of the Ukraine Reform Conference in Toronto last week.

Speaking to reporters after their first meeting at Royal York Fairmount Hotel, Zelenskiy said Ukraine is particularly interested in acquiring Canadian armoured vehicles.

Canada will continue “to stand with Ukraine against Russian interference and aggression,” Trudeau said, adding that they discussed Canada’s mission in Ukraine to train the Ukrainian military as well as the sale of lethal weapons to Kyiv.

Trudeau said a Canadian company has already invested in an ammunition factory in Ukraine without providing additional details.

But speaking to Radio Canada International, Sajjan said before Ukraine and Canada deepen their defence cooperation further, Ukraine needs to figure out what kind of a military it wants.

Reforms and defence policy first, weapons later, Canada tells Ukraine Ukraine’s Defence Minister Stepan Poltorak (R) listens to his Canadian counterpart Harjit Sajjan during a signing ceremony in Ottawa, Ontario, Canada, April 3, 2017. (Chris Wattie/REUTERS)

Instead of focusing on immediate equipment needs, the Ukrainian government needs to invest its efforts in building its defence institutions, he said.

“I’ve been there and seen other nations’ donated equipment but they’re sitting in sea containers,” Sajjan said.

“If you go and have chunks of this and that, it doesn’t really work very well. What we’re trying to do while we’re there is helping them to come up with the appropriate plan.”

Michael Carpenter, managing director of the Penn Biden Center for Diplomacy and Global Engagement and a former high-ranking Pentagon official with responsibility for Russia, Ukraine and Eurasia, said Sajjan’s approach is “absolutely right.”

Ukraine needs to get serious about deep structural reforms to its defence institutions, he said.

The Obama administration had spent a lot of effort to help Ukraine develop a roadmap for defence reform. The result was a document called the Strategic Defence Bulletin, Carpenter said.

“It’s a very comprehensive plan to make Ukraine’s military more capable and more NATO-interoperable,” Carpenter said. “But the real problem with that roadmap was that there was a lot of resistance amongst the senior members of the General Staff, who operated according to a much more Soviet logic.”

Carpenter said he hopes the new government will work to move aside these old Soviet-trained cadres and promote bright, Western-educated officers, who genuinely want to pursue reforms.

Once the new Ukrainian government is formed following parliamentary elections on July 21, they will decide the mission for their military and what kind of equipment they need, Sajjan said.

“And then from that we can look at progressing some of these conversations forward, but what we have done here is making sure that we are ready to be able to support the plan that they will create,” Sajjan said.

Having placed Ukraine on its list of countries allowed to buy Canadian military equipment and weapons and having signed a defence cooperation agreement with Kyiv, Ottawa has already created the legal foundation for eventual arms sales or defence technology transfers, Sajjan said.

“The Russian military has modernized and reformed especially over the last ten years rather prodigiously and prolifically. Ukraine needs capabilities that can match Russia’s new sophisticated weaponry to be able to defend itself,” Carpenter said.

Defence cooperation with Canada could give the once neglected Ukrainian defence industry access to state-of-the-art Canadian and Western technology, particularly in modern communications, electronics, night vision equipment, precision guided munitions, as well as target identification and acquisition systems.

But Western companies are feeling leery of investing in Ukraine because of the business climate rife with corruption and an opaque defence industry, dominated by a giant parastatal company, Ukroboronprom, comprising over 130 separate entities and more than 80,000 employees, Carpenter said.

This has been the prime impediment to Western defence companies setting up shop in Ukraine, he added. Until Ukroboronprom is thoroughly reformed, there is little chance of substantial Western investment in the Ukrainian defence industry, he said.