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‘Non-combat’ military trainers could return to Ukraine — but not yet: Blair

Canada will consider sending military trainers back to Ukraine if “certain conditions” are met, but those conditions “do not yet exist,” Defence Minister Bill Blair says.

Any Canadian military members would only be sent in “non-combat” roles, he added.

Blair made the comments during a news conference at Canadian Forces Base Edmonton. Blair was announcing $43 million in upgrades to the base.

The defence minister says conditions will need to “change” in Ukraine before Canadian troops can return to the war-torn nation, where they had been training Ukrainian soldiers on the ground prior to the Russian invasion.

Blair recently returned from a visit to the country to mark the second anniversary of the war.

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“Right now, circumstances are not appropriate for that training to take place in Ukraine, but we’re going to continue to train,” Blair told reporters.

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Canada has trained more than 40,000 Ukrainian soldiers as part of Operation Unifier, which began in 2015 after Russia annexed Crimea.

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But the Canadian military moved its training operations to the United Kingdom, Latvia and Poland following the Russian invasion.

“We have had a number of discussions with Ukrainians that suggest when the conditions are right, we may be able to return,” Blair said.

While he left the door open to returning to Ukraine, Blair insisted that “the Canadian Armed Forces cannot have any combat role or what could be perceived as a combat role.”

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Last week, French President Emmanuel Macron floated the possibility of sending western soldiers to Ukraine, an idea that prompted a swift backlash from other European leaders.

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Germany, Poland and NATO have all tried to distance themselves from Macron’s remarks. NATO Secretary-General Jens Stoltenberg insisted there are no “plans for NATO combat troops” on the ground.

Moscow says such a move would lead to a direct conflict between the alliance and Russia.

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Russian President Vladimir Putin warned that deeper western involvement in the Ukraine war could risk a global nuclear conflict.

If Canadian troops returned to Ukraine, Blair suggested they would be far from the front lines.

“My first priority was to ensure the safety of all Canadian Forces personnel if they are to undertake training missions,” Blair said.

“We’re going to continue to do it, safely in Poland.”

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