The federal government is now warning against any travel to Ukraine and urged all Canadians currently in the country to leave Monday as concerns about war with Russia escalate.
Last month Global Affairs Canada warned only against non-essential travel to Ukraine, but stepped up its warning late Monday, suggesting growing concerns that a conflict is imminent.
“Avoid all travel to Ukraine due to ongoing Russian threats and the risk of armed conflict,” the advisory said. “If you are in Ukraine, you should leave while commercial means are available.”
Relations between Russia and the West have been at their most tense in years following the deployment of more than 100,000 Russian troops on Ukraine’s border in recent months.
Talks between the U.S., NATO and other Canadian allies and Russia have so far proven unsuccessful, leading to fears of a new war in Europe.
French President Emmanuel Macron said Tuesday that Russian President Vladimir Putin told him he would not further escalate the Ukraine crisis during five hours of talks in the Kremlin a day earlier.
Macron’s remarks on a visit to Kyiv came after the Kremlin denied reports that he and Putin struck a deal on de-escalating the crisis. Kremlin spokesman Dmitry Peskov said that “in the current situation, Moscow and Paris can’t be reaching any deals.”
The Kremlin wants guarantees from the West that NATO will not accept Ukraine and other former Soviet nations as members, that it halt weapon deployments there and roll back its forces from eastern Europe.
The U.S. and NATO have rejected the demands as non-starters.
Putin reiterated Monday his opposition to NATO’s continued expansion, mostly to Ukraine, but he did signal his willingness to keep talking.
As the high-stakes diplomacy continues, Russia has kept up its military pressure, while NATO allies have been deploying troops and working on new plans for a longer-term presence in eastern Europe; to deter Russia, not defend Ukraine.
NATO allies are now discussing plans to send battalions of troops to Slovakia, Hungary, Bulgaria and Romania.
No decision on the move has been made yet, but it could mirror NATO’s presence in Estonia, Latvia, Lithuania and Poland, where 5,000 troops are deployed in a mission that’s run since 2016.
Canada has had about 600 troops leading a NATO battlegroup in Latvia tasked with defending against any Russian attack since 2017. Canada also has around 200 military trainers in Ukraine, which is not a NATO member.
Prime Minister Justin Trudeau said last week Canada was extending its training mission in Ukraine for another three years and will add another 60 trainers as part of a suite of military aid that includes night-vision goggles and armoured vests.
Ottawa has yet to respond to Latvian calls for reinforcements from Canada and other NATO allies.
While Defence Minister Anita Anand has talked about reinforcing Canada’s support in eastern Europe, the government has not said whether more troops are on or off the table.
“At the current time, we are considering options to reinforce in eastern Europe,” Anand told The Canadian Press last week, adding: “We are working with our allies and co-ordinating across the alliance.”
—Lee Berthiaume, The Canadian Press