Canadian Foreign Minister Melanie Joly is planning to visit Ukraine next week to reaffirm Ottawa’s support for the country’s sovereignty and territorial integrity, amid growing concerns in the West over Russia’s "military build-up near the Ukrainian border".
In a statement released on Saturday, Joly vowed to reinforce efforts to deter “a possible attack” by Russia, a day after the United States claimed that Moscow is plotting to stage acts of provocation to create a pretext to invade its neighboring country.
“The amassing of Russian troops and equipment in and around Ukraine jeopardizes security in the entire region. These aggressive actions must be deterred,” Joly said. “Canada will work with its international partners to uphold the rules-based international order.”
On Friday, US intelligence agencies accused Russia of preparing a false-flag operation in eastern Ukraine to justify an invasion of the country. The Kremlin spokesman Dmitry Peskov dismissed the allegation as “unfounded”.
The US accusation came after a week of diplomatic talks between officials from the US, Europe and Russia ended on Thursday with no major breakthrough.
Recently, Moscow has been especially unsettled by the prospect of Ukraine being admitted to NATO and has warned of serious measures to counteract that scenario. Last month, the Russian government put forth a number of security guarantees it said it wanted from the West, in particular about Ukraine, and offered to take certain measures in exchange.
Russian President Vladimir Putin has previously warned that Moscow will act if NATO crosses its red lines in Ukraine.
Ahead of the first round of the talks on January 10, NATO Secretary-General Jens Stoltenberg warned Russia of “severe costs” if it launched an attack on Ukraine.
Relations between Ukraine and Russia have been deteriorating since 2014, when Crimea voted in a referendum to fall under Russian sovereignty. The US and the European Union backed Kiev, refusing to recognize the referendum results and later imposing sanctions on Moscow.
Ukraine as well as the EU and the US also claim that Russia has a hand in an ongoing conflict in the Donbass region of Ukraine between government forces and ethnic Russians since 2014.
Canada has imposed punitive measures on more than 440 individuals and entities over the issue of Crimea.
On Tuesday, Canada’s Prime Minister Justin Trudeau said “any military incursion into Ukraine would have serious consequences, including coordinated sanctions” as he spoke with Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskiy.
Joly will meet Ukrainian Prime Minister Denys Shmyhal and Deputy Prime Minister Olga Stefanishyna during her high-stake visit to Kiev. She is also expected to travel to the west of the country to speak to a 200-strong Canadian training mission that has been there since 2015 to support the local military.
The Canadian official, who is due to start her week-long trip to Europe on Sunday, will also meet with the foreign affairs ministers for France and Belgium during stops in Paris and Brussels.