Ukrainian President Petro Poroshenko has pressed the Trudeau government to restart a program supplying the Ukrainian military with satellite imagery to monitor Russian and separatist rebel troop movements, and says it is “extremely important” for Canada to be part of a potential UN peacekeeping mission in the war-torn country.
In an exclusive interview with CBC’s Rosemary Barton, Poroshenko said he urged Prime Minister Justin Trudeau to provide his country with sophisticated imagery of the Ukraine-Russia border from a Canadian satellite.
“Because that can effectively help us effectively implement the Minsk agreement, to have evidence that Russia moved their tanks, artillery systems, multi-rocket launch systems,” Poroshenko said.
It’s not the first time Poroshenko has made a direct appeal to a Canadian prime minister for satellite data. He convinced the former Conservative government of Stephen Harper to provide RADARSAT-2 images for one year, beginning in March 2015, according to documents obtained by CBC News under Access to Information.
The $9.5-million initiative was not renewed in the spring of 2016 by the new Liberal government, which cited the cost and “limitations of the licence requirements” as reasons for ending the program, said the documents.
The images were carefully limited to cover the “internationally recognized territory of Ukraine” only and “any area or point outside this geographic zone” was not allowed to be shared.
That is significant because it blinded the Ukrainians to potential Russian troop movements on the other side of the border.
In the fall of last year, Canadian officials made it clear to their Ukrainian counterparts the decision to suspend the sharing of information would not be reviewed.
“I have no doubt that we will solve this question,” Poroshenko said, following his meeting with Trudeau last Friday.
Canadian peacekeepers ‘extremely important’
The Ukrainian president said Canada should be involved in the mission to help end a conflict in the embattled eastern European country between government troops and Russia-backed separatists.
Poroshenko called it “extremely important, because Canada has a unique experience,” noting Canada’s historic role in developing the UN’s peacekeeping function.
Russia annexed Crimea in 2014 and Russian-backed separatist fighters subsequently took up arms against Ukrainian government forces in the east of the country. The conflict — now in its fourth year — has killed more than 10,000 people, injured 24,000 and forced 1.6 million to leave their homes, according to the UN.
Canada has already trained more than 5,000 Ukrainian soldiers to fight Moscow-backed rebels, and Ottawa has given the country $16 million in non-lethal equipment such as helmets, bulletproof vests and winter clothing.
But there is growing push for Ottawa to commit peacekeeping troops in war-torn Ukraine.
Last year, Trudeau promised to deliver 600 soldiers and 150 police officers to UN-mandated peace support operations. The federal government has not yet committed to any specific mission.
“I have a feeling he’s absolutely open,” Poroshenko said of Trudeau’s views about sending Canadian peacekeepers to his country. “I’m fully satisfied with my discussion with Prime Minister Trudeau.”
‘Absolutely impossible’ to have Russian peacekeepers
Earlier this month, Ukraine submitted a draft proposal to the UN for peacekeepers to cover the entire conflict zone and the border with Russia it does not control. Ukraine’s plan would also ban any Russian nationals from taking part in a peacekeeping mission, an idea Moscow has denounced.
“This is absolutely impossible that Russia can be a part of the peacekeeping mission, because Russia is on the side of the conflict,” Poroshenko said. “Russia is an aggressor. We don’t have discussions.”
Kiev and Western countries accuse Russia of providing military backing to the insurgency in eastern Ukraine. Russia denies any direct role in the conflict.
Russia, meanwhile, made its own suggestions earlier this month for UN peacekeepers to be deployed to eastern Ukraine — the first major Kremlin proposal to resolve the three-year conflict.
That proposal is aimed at protecting ceasefire monitors from the Organization for Security and Co-operation in Europe (OSCE).
The observers are there to monitor implementation of the Minsk Protocol aimed at ending the war, which has been largely unsuccessful.
“Of course, the Russian proposal is unacceptable,” Poroshenko said of the Russian peacekeeping plan, “because Russia wants to use the peacekeepers as kind of the bodyguard for the observers of the special monitoring mission of the OSCE, which is absolutely against the statute.”
Sending a UN peacekeeping force requires the approval of the UN Security Council. Russia is one of five permanent members of the council and can veto any resolutions assigning peacekeepers to eastern Ukraine.
If that happens, Poroshenko said he would bring the issue before the United Nation’s highest court.
“If Russia will be the only nation who will be against peacekeeping it will be very difficult to explain,” Poroshenko said. “This is occupied territory, occupied by Russian troops, and in that situation it would be a recognition of the occupation by Russia.
“With that situation we will go to the International Court of Justice and Russia will be responsible for the military crime.”