OTTAWA – The latest commander of Canada’s navy coaching mission in Ukraine says the actual fact Russia has sanctioned him and a number of other of his predecessors alongside dozens of different distinguished Canadians is proof the mission had an affect.
Lt.-Col. Luc-Frederic Gilbert is one in all six former commanders of the coaching mission often known as Operation Unifier sanctioned by Russia final week as Moscow added 61 Canadians to the listing of these now banned from getting into the nation.
“I’m actually pleased with what we achieved,” Gilbert advised The Canadian Press in an interview when requested about his inclusion on Russia’s listing of sanctioned Canadians. “And it is a nice measure of effectiveness.”
Among the many different former Operation Unifier commanders sanctioned had been Lt.-Col. Sarah Heer and Lt.-Col. Melanie Lake, who additionally described the addition of the six senior Canadian officers as an indication of the mission’s price.
Canada first established Operation Unifier in 2015. The transfer was in direct response to Russia’s annexation of the Crimean Peninsula and its provision of weapons, ammunition and even troops to pro-Russian separatists in jap Ukraine.
The aim of the mission, which developed a number of occasions earlier than being suspended forward of Russia’s invasion, was to assist Ukraine remodel its post-Soviet navy into a contemporary preventing power able to defending the nation.
The federal authorities says greater than 33,000 Ukrainian troopers had been educated by Canada earlier than the mission was suspended lower than two weeks earlier than Russia launched its full-scale invasion in February.
Gilbert was on the bottom when the order got here down from Ottawa for his 250 troops to pack up and depart Ukraine for Poland previous to Russia’s assault. He says whereas he understands the order to go away, it was however “a bit bizarre for us.”
“As soon as we had been relocated in Poland, that is the place we went: ‘That simply occurred,’” Gilbert recalled. “The sensation is a bit bizarre for us as a result of that is in opposition to our nature. … We’re educated to (struggle), we aren’t supposed to go away in these kinds of conditions.”
Canada and its allies stated within the leadup to Russia’s invasion that they might not deploy troops into Ukraine, fearing such a transfer would escalate the battle and result in an all-out struggle between Russia and the NATO navy alliance. Western nations have as a substitute been offering monetary and navy help to Ukraine and imposed sanctions on Russia.
Whereas planning for the withdrawal of Canadian troops began in November, when Russia first mustered of 1000’s of troops on Ukraine’s border, Gilbert stated it wasn’t till the top of January that everybody realized the menace was actual.
Even then, nonetheless, there was uncertainty. Gilbert recalled his final assembly with a Ukrainian navy officer earlier than departing the nation in mid-February, through which the Ukrainian Nationwide Guard commander dismissed the specter of a Russian assault.
“He stated: ‘We’re going to see one another quickly as a result of this isn’t going to occur,’” Gilbert stated. “I used to be at that time satisfied that one thing was going to occur. He was nonetheless assured this was not going to actually occur. … Sadly, I used to be proper.”
Gilbert and his troops spent a couple of month in Poland, throughout which era completed packing in preparation for his or her eventual return to Canada. They had been additionally placed on standby in case they had been wanted to offer humanitarian or different help.
All trainers below Gilbert’s command have since returned to Canada, although one other group of 150 Canadian Armed Forces members not too long ago headed again to Poland to assist among the thousands and thousands of Ukrainians who’ve fled Russia’s invasion.
Gilbert himself is now again at Canadian Forces Base Valcartier, the place he’s in control of 5 Fight Engineer Regiment. Nevertheless, he’s technically nonetheless the commander of Operation Unifier, which is on pause however slated to run till March 2025.
Earlier Operation Unifier commanders have recommended the Canadian mission helped the Ukrainian navy turn out to be extra nimble by empowering and trusting these additional down the chain of command with info and to make choices.
This has allowed the Ukrainians to defend on a number of fronts and function in ways in which the Russians weren’t anticipating, together with by deploying small groups who’ve been instrumental in knocking out tanks and different Russian forces.
Gilbert agreed with that evaluation, saying whereas Operation Unifier additionally supplied sniper coaching and different specialised directions, “the small unit techniques is probably the most highly effective demonstration” of Canada’s contribution.
This report by The Canadian Press was first revealed April 24, 2022.
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