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Ukraine presses Canada to send more weapons as its forces push east

Ukraine has presented Canada with a new list of its military hardware needs as its army presses a counter-offensive against Russia in the east, CBC News has learned.

The request was contained in a letter received by Defence Minister Anita Anand from her Ukrainian counterpart, Oleksii Reznikov, almost three weeks ago, said two defence sources with knowledge of the file.

It comes as Russian President Vladimir Putin signalled again on Wednesday that his country is prepared to hold annexation referendums in territory it has conquered in Ukraine, and that it will partially mobilize with the call-up of 300,000 reservists who have military experience.

The government of Ukrainian President Volodomyr Zelenskyy is asking Canada for more armoured vehicles — specifically the latest version of the light armoured vehicle known as the LAV VI.

A Canadian LAV (light armoured vehicle) at ther forward operating base near Panjwaii, Afghanistan, on Nov. 26, 2006. (Bill Graveland/The Canadian Press)

Last June, the Liberal government promised to deliver 39 armoured troop carriers (ACSVs) to Ukraine — vehicles that have no weapons. The first few of those vehicles were shipped recently by the manufacturer, GDLS Land Systems Canada of London, Ont.

The Ukrainians say they need a fighting vehicle “with a 25 millimetre chaingun,” which is the main armament on a LAV VI and the older (now decommissioned) LAV III, which the Canadian army used in Afghanistan.

Ukraine is also asking Canada to once again dip into its stock of M-777 howitzers and to supply more shells and winter clothing for their troops, the sources said.

Ukraine wants to know Canada’s still willing: sources

Canada set aside $500 million in the recent budget for weapons shipments to Ukraine. That money has now been spent.

Other NATO allies, notably the U.S. and Germany, continue to purchase and ship weapons. Ukraine is looking for a signal from Canada that it will continue to step up, the sources said.

A spokesperson for Anand would only say the dialogue continues between the two countries.

“On a bilateral basis and through the Ukraine Defense Contact Group, Minister Anand remains in close contact with Minister Reznikov about Ukraine’s most pressing security needs,” said Daniel Minden in a written statement.

“Canada will continue to stand with Ukraine and is exploring a variety of options to continue providing Ukraine with comprehensive military assistance.”

Minden pointed out that since February 2022, Canada has committed $626 million in military aid to Ukraine.

A Ukrainian soldier shows a V-sign atop a vehicle in Izium, Kharkiv region, on Sept. 13. Ukrainian troops piled pressure on retreating Russian forces, pressing deeper into occupied territory and sending more Kremlin troops fleeing ahead of a counteroffensive that has inflicted a stunning blow on Moscow’s military prestige. (Kostiantyn Liberov/The Associated Press)

The request for more military equipment comes after the Kremlin announced four regions of occupied Ukraine are asking for referendums on joining Russia.

Prime Minister Justin Trudeau, Foreign Affairs Minister Melanie Joly and Bob Rae, Canada’s representative at the United Nations, condemned Russia’s latest actions, calling the referendum process a sham.

“You can’t have a referendum in a country under military occupation,” Rae said in New York in response to a question from a Russian journalist. “That’s a joke. The Russians should give their heads a shake.”

Ihor Michalchyshyn, executive director of the Ukrainian Canadian Congress, said Moscow holding referendums in the region it occupies would be illegal under international law.

The referendum push is also a direct response to Ukraine’s recent battlefield successes, making Ukraine’s call for more weapons even more critical, he added.

“From the beginning, we’ve been urging and asking the Canadians to understand that their sense of urgency needs to be increased — that this is … a live war that works on the scale of days and hours, not on the scale of weeks and months,” Michalchyshyn said, adding that none of the armoured vehicles promised by Canada have been delivered yet.

“I think Canada will lose credibility if we can’t deliver on those commitments, on those promises, in the near future.”

Christian Leuprecht, a professor at the Royal Military College of Canada, said it’s in Canada’s national interest to give Ukraine what it needs.

“While Canada’s support has been modest, Canada relative to a number of other allies has actually been pretty good on delivering expeditiously on the promises that it makes,” he said.

Arms industry unprepared for a major war

The problem, he said, is that allies and the defence industry as a whole were not prepared for a large-scale war. 

“Since the end of the Cold War, not only have allies considerably restructured their armed forces, they also don’t hold the stockpiles anymore that they used to have,” Leuprecht said.

“And so, effectively, most of what you ended up giving away today comes out of your current stockpile. So this is equipment that you’re actually going to be actively short.”

Most of the items Canada has donated already — including four 155 millimetre howitzers and anti-tank weapons — have been taken directly out of Canadian Army stocks. At the end of the NATO summit in June, Trudeau committed publicly to replacing that equipment.

But a recent report by the Washington-based Center for Strategic and International Studies called into question how long allies — including the United States — can continue to dip into their own inventories without a surge in defence manufacturing.

The Pentagon has been talking with the defence industry about increasing production.

“The industry’s general position, however, is that DOD should make commitments for multi-year acquisition to justify industry investment in surge capabilities,” said the report, released last Friday and written by Mark F. Cancian, a senior adviser at the think-tank’s international security program.

An earlier Center for Strategic and International Studies study — one written before the onset of major hostilities in Ukraine — found the defence contracting system to be “brittle” and warned that replacing “inventories in an emergency” for most items would take many years.

“The problem is that the defense industrial base is sized for peacetime production rates,” said that report, written in January.

“Surge capabilities have been regarded as wasteful, buying factory capacity that was not planned to be used. Conversion of civilian industry to wartime production is theoretically possible but a long process. In World War II, that conversion took two to three years in a society and economy that was fully mobilized.”

A M142 High Mobility Artillery Rocket System (HIMARS) in action in Ukraine. (Pavlo Narozhnyy/Reuters)

The report warns that certain products are scarce now among Ukraine’s allies and are not easy to produce quickly: rocket-launched artillery (the MLRS and HIMARS systems), M-777 155 millimetre howitzers and Javelin anti-tank systems. 

“Reportedly, the United States has given about one-third of its inventory to Ukraine, and reports have emerged that the military has raised concerns about having enough for other conflicts,” said the most recent Center for Strategic and International Studies report.

“Surprisingly, the August 19 arms package includes another 1,000 Javelins, despite the low inventory. The current production rate is about 1,000 a year. Although DOD is working to increase that, it will be many years before the inventory is fully replenished.”

Replacing stocks of 155 millimetre M-777 howitzers could be especially difficult, since production of those artillery pieces ceased years ago.

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