The retired general who once presided over Canada’s combat mission in Afghanistan is urging Ottawa to send hundreds of armoured vehicles to Ukraine and double its promised military aid to $1-billion, saying the besieged country must be able to repel the coming land assault from Russia.
Rick Hillier, who served as chief of the defence staff from 2005 to 2008, said the federal government needs to be ambitious about helping Kyiv as Russia refocuses its military assault on consolidating territorial gains in eastern Ukraine.
“As a nation, we have got to do this because we have got to make the world a better place,” Mr. Hillier said in an interview. “And that includes making sure Ukraine can survive and defend and go on the offence. And then rebuild its armed forces.”
Ottawa has said that it’s exhausted what can be supplied from its own inventory after sending $110-million in aid, including rocket launchers to Ukraine. It earmarked $500-million in the 2022 budget for more military hardware.
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On Thursday, Defence Minister Anita Anand said the Trudeau government is still working on how to deliver on the promised half-billion dollars in assistance. Ms. Anand said Ottawa is talking to domestic arms suppliers for possible purchases but is also discussing pooling some of the funds with allies for more-efficient military aid.
Mr. Hillier said Canada has no urgent need for its own inventory of light armoured vehicles (LAVs) and should send them now. “I understand the army wouldn’t want to lose 200 LAV IIIs but, hey, we’re not sending the army anywhere in the short term,” he said.
He urges Ottawa to place an expedited order with the General Dynamics LAV manufacturing factory in London, Ont., to not only replace the lost Canadian inventory but build another 300 to 500 additional LAVs for Ukraine.
“It’s a wonderful fighting vehicle,” he said of the LAV.
The Armed Forces has 550 of these General Dynamics LAV fighting vehicles, 162 Bison armoured vehicles and 66 Coyote armoured vehicles.
Russian forces have retreated from the area around the capital city of Kyiv but are redoubling their efforts in Ukraine’s east. Moscow is beefing up its military for a new assault on the Donbas region, setting the stage for a protracted battle. Heavy losses are a certainty on both sides, military analysts have said, as the Russians try to encircle Ukraine’s fighters.
Ukraine is preparing for a major land battle where they will face Russian tanks and artillery. The challenge in eastern Ukraine is that much of the field of battle is unforested grassland – steppe – where Ukraine’s defenders will not be able to practice the guerrilla tactics that were successful in wooded areas north of Kyiv.
Mr. Hillier said the atrocities committed against civilians in Ukraine by Russia should be a call to greater action.
“Take a billion dollars. Not the $500M and go buy a bunch of stuff they need – what they need now is to survive this oncoming assault. They need anti-tank weapons, they need ground-based air-defence weapons, artillery, they need ammunition. They need tanks. T-72 tanks and fighting vehicles,” he said.
Military experts have said that it’s difficult to purchase new weaponry in the international market right now because many countries are trying to arm Ukraine.
Mr. Hillier said Canada should enlist the private sector to help underwrite the costs of helping Ukraine.
“I have been engaged with companies that act as brokers around the world. You can buy anything – whether it’s in Eastern Europe or the Middle East or Asia … weapons and armaments and munitions.”
The retired general is going to be working with the Ukrainian World Congress (UWC), an advocacy group for the Ukrainian diaspora, on its fundraising effort UniteWithUkraine.com. It aims to outfit 100,000 Ukrainian fighters with all the gear necessary from flak jackets to ballistic helmets.
Mr. Hillier said he will help advise the UWC on raising funds from around the world to finance the project.
The UWC effort is dedicated to raising money for non-lethal gear only but several donors, that the group is not identifying, have made a special purchase of Canadian-made sniper rifles for the Ukrainian forces. They have purchased 10 sniper-rifle systems so far and Ottawa has approved the export of these weapons.
Paul Grod, UWC president, said he hopes the federal government could cover the cost of more sniper rifles. “We expect the Canadian government to take on these rifle purchases in the future with the funds they have allocated for military equipment.”
Mr. Hillier said these long-range rifles will come in handy in open areas. “You are not going to be able to do short-range ambushes so you are going to need stuff like the 50-cal sniper rifle.”
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