Canada will send heavy artillery to Ukraine, Trudeau pledges

Published April 19, 2022 11:14 p.m. ET

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Prime Minister Justin Trudeau revealed plans Tuesday to send heavy artillery to embattled Ukraine as Canada levied new sanctions against more than a dozen close associates of Russian President Vladimir Putin, including his two daughters.

Trudeau mentioned the plan to provide artillery to repel Russian invaders during a news conference in Dalhousie, N.B., saying the decision followed a specific request to Canada from Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskyy’s government.

“Their most recent request (for assistance) from Canada is to help them with heavy artillery because that’s what the phase of the war is in right now,” Trudeau said. “And Canada will be sending heavy artillery to Ukraine with more details to come in the coming weeks.”

Earlier this month Zelenskyy released a list of equipment he said the Ukrainian military needed to fight Russia, including 155-millimetre heavy artillery guns and ammunition.

The Liberal government has previously dipped into the Canadian Armed Forces inventory to provide lethal aid to the Ukrainian military as it fights a Russian invasion that started in late February and has so far killed thousands of people.

But Defence Minister Anita Anand has suggested the military’s spare inventory is tapped out, and that the government – which set aside $500 million in military assistance for Ukraine in its latest budget – planned to buy equipment from vendors.

The Canadian Army’s main artillery gun is the M777 howitzer, firing 155-millimetre shells, more than 30 of which were acquired from the United States starting in 2005.

However, unlike some of the weapons already donated to Ukraine, the M777s remain very much in use. In response to Russia’s attack, the government recently deployed one M777 unit to reinforce a Canadian-led NATO battlegroup in Latvia.

Retired lieutenant-general Andrew Leslie, who served as an artillery officer, said Canada could send M777s to Ukraine. However, he suggested the guns would be vulnerable to Russian assaults.

“The M777 gun crews are out in the open and they're towed by light-skinned vehicles,” he said. “So they're very vulnerable to fighter jets to attack helicopters and to relatively sophisticated forces such as the Russians have.”

Canada previously operated the M109 self-propelled howitzer, which resembles a tank, before they were retired in 2005 due to escalating costs. Leslie didn’t know if any of those might still be sitting in warehouses, but suggested they could be useful.

If Canada were to send M777s, he added, they would need to be replaced for the army. Leslie nonetheless said Ukraine clearly needs heavy weapons such as artillery, “and right now Ukraine has a higher need than we do.”

Leslie also suggested Canada provide 50 light-armoured vehicles to Ukraine.

Dutch Prime Minister Mark Rutte said in a tweet Tuesday that his country will be providing armoured vehicles, following a call with Zelenskyy. "Along with allies, we are looking into supplying additional heavy materiel," Rutte wrote.  

Trudeau spoke with NATO and European leaders Tuesday at a virtual meeting organized by U.S. President Joe Biden. 

The group discussed its ongoing support for Ukraine and economic sanctions against Russia, and committed to continue working with and through the EU, G7 and NATO, according to the White House.

Canada imposed sanctions on another 14 Russians with close ties to President Vladimir Putin, including his two adult daughters, Maria Vorontsova, 36, and her 35-year-old sister Katerina Tikhonova.

The federal government says they face sanctions as close associates of Putin who are complicit in Russia's unjustifiable invasion of Ukraine.

"This Russian regime and its associates need to continue to be held accountable for their actions," Trudeau said.

Trudeau praised Ukrainians who have "fought like heroes" against Russian invaders. 

"They’re fighting for the values that underpin so many of our free, democratic societies," he said. "Which is why the world needs to continue to step up, why Canada is continuing to stand with Ukraine — to stand against Russia, but also ensure that this conflict doesn’t escalate to elsewhere."

Global Affairs Canada said in a news release that a report delivered by Organization for Security and Co-operation in Europe experts last week "confirmed that the Russian forces are committing serious atrocities and human rights violations in Ukraine, including war crimes and likely crimes against humanity."

The United States and European Union have targeted Putin's daughters and other family members, saying they believe the Russian leader has hidden assets with them.

Putin is extremely private about his personal life, avoiding mention of his children in public. 

“I never discuss my family with anyone,” Putin told reporters at a 2015 news conference, according to the BBC. 

Putin married Lyudmila Shkrebneva in the 1980s when he was a KGB agent and she was an Aeroflot flight attendant. They divorced three decades later.

Oldest daughter Maria is a medical researcher and reportedly a businesswoman and developer.

Younger daughter Katerina was a competitive dancer turned tech developer, appearing publicly at performances and in occasional tech conferences.

So far, sanctions have not been imposed on the woman named in news reports as Putin’s longtime romantic partner. Photos from public appearances document years of Putin beaming at Alina Kabaeva, a former Olympic gymnast.

Kabaeva became a lawmaker in the Duma and later a board member of a Russian national media company, whose news outlets have promoted Russia’s invasion of Ukraine. As British tabloids noted, Kabaeva’s photo and name recently disappeared from the website of the National Media Group as sanctions on Putin’s intimates neared.

Following Russia's attack that began Feb. 24, Canada has imposed sanctions on more than 700 individuals and entities from Russia, Ukraine and Belarus.

Last week, sanctions targeted organizations that have provided support to the Russian military — directly or indirectly — including the Moscow Institute of Physics and Technology, Integral SPB and Shipyard Vympel JSC.

The EU has introduced a series of sanctions as well, targeting Russia’s lucrative energy industry with an embargo on coal imports, along with a transaction ban on four key Russian banks representing 23 per cent of market share in the Russian banking sector. 

The 27-nation bloc also banned vessels registered under the Russian flag from EU ports, with an exception for agricultural and food products, humanitarian aid and energy.

Since Russia's annexation of Crimea in 2014, Canada has levied sanctions on more than 1,100 individuals and entities.

Deputy Prime Minister Chrystia Freeland planned to hold a meeting later Tuesday in Washington with Ukrainian Finance Minister Serhiy Marchenko.

This report by The Canadian Press was first published April 19, 2022.

— With files from Jordan Press and The Associated Press

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