Deputy Prime Minister and Finance Minister Chrystia Freeland on Tuesday underscored the importance of helping Ukraine win its fight against Russia’s invasion this year, a victory she said would be a “big boost” for Canada and the global economy.
Yet Freeland would not say if Canada would supply Leopard 2 tanks in order to help Ukraine achieve that victory, becoming the latest cabinet official to remain mum on the issue.
“Canada is absolutely committed to supporting Ukraine and we will be with the people of Ukraine for as long as it takes,” she told reporters outside the Liberal cabinet retreat in Hamilton.
“As finance minister, let me also add that I really believe that a clear, strategically viable and stable Ukrainian victory this year would be a big boost for the global economy and a big boost for Canada.”
Ukraine has been pressing Western allies for weeks to send them hundreds of tanks it says are critically needed to repel Russian forces, who are seeking to regain ground lost to Ukrainian counter-offensives last summer and fall. Fresh Russian offensives are expected to begin in the spring, raising further questions on what additional aid allies can offer for the next phase of Ukraine’s defence.
Germany has been accused of blocking the export of its Leopard 2 tanks over fears that Moscow will view such a move as a further escalation of the conflict.
NATO and many of its members have pressed Germany to allow the tanks’ release. Poland’s government on Monday said it will go ahead and send its tanks to Ukraine after filing a formal request, which Germany later said it will approve.
The Canadian Forces has roughly 112 Leopard 2s in several configurations that were acquired from Germany in 2007 during the height of the war in Afghanistan. But so far, the federal government has not committed to exporting any of those tanks to Ukraine.
On Monday, Prime Minister Justin Trudeau said Canada is in “regular conversations with Ukrainian leadership” about the country’s military needs, but he has “nothing to announce” yet.
Foreign Affairs Minister Melanie Joly said later Monday that she had spoken to her German counterpart about the issue. But she did not say whether Ottawa is seeking permission to send tanks.
Freeland on Tuesday pointed to Defence Minister Anita Anand’s comments last week that “everything is on the table” when it comes to supporting Ukraine. Anand made the comments while announcing Canada will be supplying 200 armoured vehicles purchased from Roshel, a company based in Mississauga, Ont., at a cost of $90 million.
Freeland added she has spoken to Anand and Trudeau during this week’s cabinet retreat about continued military support for Ukraine, but did not specifically mention tanks.
“We are going to continue supporting Ukraine because that’s the right thing to do,” she said.
Reports emerged earlier on Tuesday that a deal with Germany may be imminent.
German news outlet Der Spiegel and Reuters both reported on Tuesday, citing unnamed sources familiar with the matter, that Chancellor Olaf Scholz has decided to send Leopard 2 tanks to Ukraine and allow other countries such as Poland to do so with their Leopard tanks. Scholz is scheduled to make a speech to the German parliament and answer lawmakers’ questions on Wednesday.
The Associated Press is also reporting that Joe Biden’s administration is poised to approve sending M1 Abrams tanks to Ukraine, citing an unnamed official.
Britain has already announced it will be sending its own Challenger tanks to Ukraine along with a significant military aid package.
Freeland did not comment on those reports, which have not been confirmed by the Pentagon or the White House.
The federal government says Canada has contributed approximately $5 billion in military, financial and humanitarian assistance since Russian forces crossed into Ukraine on Feb. 24, 2022.
That has made Canada one of the largest per capita contributors to Ukraine, Freeland said, adding the financial aid in particular is in Canada’s national interest.
“That economic battlefield is a very important one,” she said. “Helping the Ukrainian government to be viable every day, to pay pensions to Ukrainians, to literally keep the lights on is important, and we’re there.”
—With files from Aaron D’Andrea and the Canadian Press