Pressure builds for Canada to send tanks to Ukraine after Germany gives OK
By Lee Berthiaume in Ottawa
Pressure is building for Canada to send some of its Leopard 2 battle tanks to Ukraine after Germany decided to provide the heavy weapons and allow other countries to do the same.
German Chancellor Olaf Scholz announced his government’s decision on Wednesday following weeks of hesitation that created impatience among his country’s allies, saying Berlin will send 14 of its Leopard 2A6 tanks.
Scholz’s announcement came shortly before U.S. President Joe Biden revealed plans to send 31 M1 Abrams tanks to Ukraine, opening a potential floodgate following weeks of pleas by Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskyy.
The goal is for Germany and its allies to provide Ukraine with 88 of the German-made Leopards, which would make up two battalions, and work alongside the U.S.-made Abrams in launching counteroffensives against Russian forces.
Yet while Poland has already promised to send Leopards if Germany agreed, and other European nations such as Finland and Spain have indicated a willingness to do the same, Canada’s Prime Minister Justin Trudeau was more circumspect on Wednesday.
“Canada has stepped up significantly and without hesitation to support the Ukrainian people, and Ukraine itself,” he said at a news conference marking the end of a three-day cabinet retreat in Hamilton.
“We will continue to be there to give whatever support we can to Ukraine. I won’t be making an announcement today. But I can tell you we are looking very, very closely at what more we can do to support Ukraine.”
The Canadian Armed Forces has 112 Leopard 2s in its inventory in a number of different variations. Those include 82 designed for combat and 30 that are used for engineering purposes and recovering disabled vehicles.
Retired lieutenant-general and former Canadian Army commander Jean-Marc Lanthier said in an interview that any donation will almost certainly need to balance the needs and benefits to Ukraine against the potential impact on Canada’s military.
“Getting rid of any tanks — because we have so few, and so few that are actively working — would have an immediate impact on the level of readiness of the Army,” said Lanthier, who served as an armoured officer.
“Is that something that should stop us from sending tanks? I think we have a moral responsibility in terms of the immediacy of the requirements of the Ukrainian Armed Forces and the Ukrainian people. They are fighting a war. We are not.”
Canada bought its Leopards from Germany during the war in Afghanistan. They are notionally divided into squadrons of 19 tanks each, with two squadrons in Edmonton and a third at CFB Gagetown, N.B. Most of the rest are at the armoured training school in Gagetown.
“And normally you keep a bunch of them at a depot ready to be deployed, but that’s not something we’re doing necessarily because we don’t have the numbers,” said Lanthier.
Adding to the pressure is the fact only about half of Canada’s Leopards are operational on any given day due to maintenance and repair requirements for the surprisingly complex vehicles, he added.
Department of National Defence spokesman Andrew McKelvey would not comment Wednesday on what percentage of the military’s Leopard 2s are currently operational, and how many are out of service for maintenance and other reasons.
“Tank maintenance is similar to aircraft maintenance, and the status of the fleet at any given moment depends on a comprehensive maintenance, repair, and overhaul schedule, which is tied to specific requirements for training or operational employment,” he said.
“For operational security reasons we cannot specify how many Leopard 2s are being maintained at any given time or give indication of their maintenance schedule.”
The question facing the government will ultimately be whether the benefit of sending tanks to Ukraine outweighs the impact on the military, Lanthier said. If it does, another question will be whether those tanks would be replaced — and if so, how quickly.
“If we deem that we want to retain that capability that tanks give us in terms of a modern, battle-capable army, we need tanks,” he said. “If we accept that, then anything we give has to be replaced.”
This report by The Canadian Press was first published Jan. 25, 2023.
— With files from The Associated Press.
China’s Xi to meet Putin as Beijing seeks bolder global role
Chinese President Xi Jinping, right, and Russian President Vladimir Putin talk to each other during their meeting in Beijing, China on Feb. 4, 2022. China says President Xi will visit Russia from Monday, March 20, to Wednesday, March 22, 2023, in an apparent show of support for Russian President Putin amid sharpening east-west tensions over the conflict in Ukraine. (Alexei Druzhinin, Sputnik, Kremlin Pool Photo via AP, File)
By Karl Ritter in Kyiv
KYIV, Ukraine (AP) — Chinese President Xi Jinping plans to visit Moscow next week, a major boost for Russian President Vladimir Putin amid sharpening East-West tensions over the war in Ukraine and the latest sign of Beijing’s emboldened diplomatic ambitions.
Western leaders have tried to isolate Putin over the conflict, now in its 13th month. Xi’s trip, announced Friday, is a diplomatic shot in the arm to the Russian leader at a time when his troops are bogged down in a battle of attrition, focused now on Ukraine’s eastern Donbas region.
The U.S. on Friday said it would oppose any effort by China at the meeting to propose a ceasefire in Ukraine as the “ratification of Russian conquest.”
White House National Security Council spokesman John Kirby encouraged Xi to reach out to Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskyy to get his country’s perspective on the war and to avoid any “one-sided” proposals.
China has sought to project itself as neutral in the conflict, even while it has refused to condemn Moscow’s aggression and declared last year that it had a “no-limits” friendship with Russia. Beijing has denounced Western sanctions against Moscow, and accused NATO and the United States of provoking Putin’s military action.
Throughout the conflict, China has said the sovereignty and territorial integrity of all countries should be respected. It remains unclear, however, whether it sympathizes with Moscow’s claims to seized Ukrainian territory.
Xi’s visit would mark his first meeting with Putin since September, when they met on the sidelines of a regional summit in Samarkand, Ubekistan. Before that, Putin attended the opening of the 2022 Beijing Winter Games and met with Xi shortly before sending troops into Ukraine.
Kremlin spokesman Dmitry Peskov said Friday that Putin and Xi would have a one-on-one meeting over an informal dinner Monday. Broader talks involving officials from both countries are scheduled for Tuesday.
Putin’s foreign policy adviser, Yuri Ushakov, suggested the talks could yield new approaches to the fighting in Ukraine.
“I’m sure that our leader and the Chinese leader will exchange their assessments of the situation in the context of the development of the conflict in Ukraine,” Ushakov said. “We shall see what ideas will emerge after that.”
A spokesman for Prime Minister Rishi Sunak said Britain would welcome any genuine effort by China aimed at “restoring sovereignty to Ukraine.” Kyiv says that is non-negotiable in any attempt at ending the war.
“Any peace deal which is not predicated on Ukraine’s sovereignty and self-determination is not a peace deal at all,” Sunak’s spokesman Jamie Davies said.
On Thursday, Chinese Foreign Minister Qin Gang reached out to his Ukrainian counterpart, Dmytro Kuleba, telling him that Beijing was concerned about the war spinning out of control and urging talks on a political solution with Moscow.
China has “always upheld an objective and fair stance on the Ukraine issue, has committed itself to promoting peace and advancing negotiations and calls on the international community to create conditions for peace talks,” Qin said.
Kuleba later tweeted that he and Qin “discussed the significance of the principle of territorial integrity.” Ukraine has listed Russia’s withdrawal from the occupied areas as the main condition for peace.
“I underscored the importance of (Zelenskyy’s)’s peace formula for ending the aggression and restoring just peace in Ukraine,” wrote Kuleba, who spoke the same day with U.S. Secretary of State Antony Blinken.
China last month called for a Ukraine cease-fire and peace talks between Kyiv and Moscow. Zelenskyy cautiously welcomed Beijing’s involvement but the overture appeared to go no further.
China has its own territorial issues with Taiwan, which it claims as its own territory to be brought under its control by force if necessary.
Beijing’s apparent deeper dive into Ukraine issues follows its success last week in brokering talks between Iran and its chief Middle Eastern rival, Saudi Arabia. Those two countries agreed to restore their diplomatic ties after years of tensions.
The agreement cast China in a leading role in Middle Eastern politics, a part previously reserved for longtime global heavyweights like the U.S.
On the back of that, Xi called for China to play a bigger role in managing global affairs.
Washington has marshaled Western military and diplomatic efforts against Putin, but the Russian leader has showed no signs of softening his belligerent stance.
In Washington on Friday, Kirby told reporters, “A ceasefire now is, again, effectively the ratification of Russian conquest.” It would, he added, ”in effect recognize Russia’s gains and its attempt to conquer its neighbor’s territory by force, allowing Russian troops to continue to occupy sovereign Ukrainian territory.”
He warned that Russia could use a ceasefire to regroup “so that they can restart attacks on Ukraine at a time of their choosing.”
The destruction of a U.S. drone over the Black Sea on Tuesday following an encounter with Russian fighter jets further escalated U.S.-Russia tensions, although it also prompted the first conversations between the countries’ defense and military chiefs since October.
Putin invited Xi to visit Russia during a video conference call the two held in late December. The visit, Putin said, could “demonstrate to the whole world the strength of the Russian-Chinese ties” and “become the main political event of the year in bilateral relations.”
Chinese Ministry of Foreign Affairs spokesperson Wang Wenbin said Friday that Xi “will have an in-depth exchange of views with President Putin on bilateral relations and major international and regional issues of common concern….”
“Currently, the world is entering a new period of turbulence and reform with the accelerated evolution of changes of the century. As permanent members of the U.N. Security Council and important major countries, the significance and impact of the China-Russia relations go far beyond the bilateral sphere,” he added.
The Kremlin said in a statement that Xi and Putin will exchange views “in the context of deepening Russian-Chinese cooperation in the international arena,” and would sign “important bilateral documents.”
Follow AP’s coverage of the war in Ukraine: https://apnews.com/hub/russia-ukraine-war
Former Australian PM says subs ‘worst deal in all history’
International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) Director General, Rafael Grossi, addresses a news conference during an IAEA Board of Governors meeting in Vienna, Austria, Monday, Feb. 6, 2023. The head of the International Atomic Energy Agency is set for another four-year term at the helm of the United Nations’ nuclear watchdog as it grapples with monitoring Iran’s nuclear activities and tries to shore up the safety of power plants in Ukraine. (AP Photo/Heinz-Peter Bader, file)
SYDNEY (AP) — Former Australian Prime Minister Paul Keating on Wednesday launched a blistering attack on his nation’s plan to buy nuclear-powered submarines from the United States to modernize its fleet, saying “it must be the worst deal in all history.”
Speaking at a National Press Club event, Keating said the submarines wouldn’t serve a useful military purpose.
The condemnation came as China intensified complaints that the sub deal threatens global accords against nuclear non-proliferation, and as the head of the international nuclear watchdog organization was in Washington to consult with the White House on the deal.
“The only way the Chinese could threaten Australia or attack it is on land. That is, they bring an armada of troop ships with a massive army to occupy us,” Keating said. “This is not possible for the Chinese to do.”
He added that Australia would sink any such Chinese armada with planes and missiles.
“The idea that we need American submarines to protect us,” Keating said. “If we buy eight, three are at sea. Three are going to protect us from the might of China. Really? I mean, the rubbish of it. The rubbish.”
Australia’s deal — announced Monday in San Diego by U.S. President Joe Biden, Australian Prime Minister Anthony Albanese and British Prime Minister Rishi Sunak — came amid growing concern about China’s military buildup and influence in the Indo-Pacific. Biden emphasized that the submarines wouldn’t carry nuclear weapons of any kind.
Australian Defense Minister Richard Marles said the deal was necessary to counter the biggest conventional military buildup in the region since World War II.
“We have to take the step of developing the capability to operate a nuclear-powered submarine so that we can hand over a much more self-reliant nation to our children and to our grandchildren,” Marles said.
China said Tuesday the U.S., Australia and the United Kingdom were traveling “further down the wrong and dangerous path for their own geopolitical self-interest” in inking the deal, which has been given the acronym AUKUS.
China renewed its objections at length on Wednesday, accusing the three countries of “coercing” the International Atomic Energy Agency into endorsing the deal. All member states of the IAEA should work to find a solution to the “safeguards issues” and “maintain international peace and security,” Foreign Ministry spokesperson Wang Wenbin said at a daily briefing.
Arms control experts in the West also have expressed concern, saying the U.S., Australian and British sub deal could open the door for other nuclear-armed countries to pursue nuclear transfers to third-party countries, and could set a precedent that would make it harder for international regulators to guard against the illegal trafficking and use of nuclear material.
Rafael Grossi, director general of IAEA, rejected China’s accusation. “Nobody coerces me. Nobody coerces the IAEA,” he told reporters Wednesday in Washington, where he was due to meet with senior National Security Council members on the nuclear-powered sub deal.
Grossi insisted his agency would hold the AUKUS allies and any other nation that attempts a similar nuclear transfer to tough and lasting standards of design, monitoring, inspection and transparency to try to make sure nuclear non-proliferation accords were being observed.
As part of the effort to ensure the nuclear material in the sub engines doesn’t go astray after it leaves U.S. control, the power units are to be welded shut. It’s a first for the IAEA to deal with, and inspectors will insist on guaranteeing that ships return to ports with as much nuclear material in the welded units as they left with, Grossi told reporters.
“We are going to put together a solid system to try to have all the guarantees” that there is no risk that the transfer of nuclear-powered submarines violates international barriers against more countries acquiring nuclear weapons capability, he said. “If we cannot do that, we would never agree.”
Keating served as prime minister for more than four years in the 1990s. He was from the Labor Party, the same party as Albanese.
Keating said the submarine deal was the worst international decision by the Labor Party in more than 100 years, when it unsuccessfully tried to introduce conscription during World War I.
He also mocked the cost of the deal, which Australian officials have estimated at between 268 billion and 368 billion Australian dollars ($178-$245 billion) over three decades. Australian officials say the deal will create 20,000 jobs.
“For $360 billion, we’re going to get eight submarines,” Keating said. “It must be the worst deal in all history.”
At the Press Club event, Keating was questioned about whether his own ties to China had influenced his views.
He said he had no commercial interests in China and had stopped serving on a bank board five years ago.
“I was on the China Development Bank board for 13 years, and 10 years as chairman,” Keating said, adding that his fee, or honorarium, was $5,000 a year.
Keating also lashed out at some journalists at the event, telling one reporter her question “is so dumb, it’s hardly worth an answer” and another that “you should hang your head in shame” over his newspaper’s recent coverage of China’s perceived threat to Australia.
“For the record, Mr. Keating, we’re very proud of our journalism and we think that it has made an important contribution to the national debate,” responded the second journalist, Matthew Knott from The Sydney Morning Herald.
Ellen Knickmeyer contributed from Washington.
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