OTTAWA – The newest commander of Canada’s military training mission in Ukraine says the fact that Russia sanctioned him and several of his predecessors alongside dozens of other prominent Canadians is proof that the mission had an impact.
Lieutenant-Colonel Luc-Frédéric Gilbert is one of six former commanders of the training mission known as Operation Unifier sanctioned by Russia last week as Moscow added 61 Canadians to the now banned list entry into the country.
“I’m really proud of what we’ve accomplished,” Gilbert told The Canadian Press in an interview when asked about his inclusion on the Russian-sanctioned Canadians list. “And that’s a great measure of efficiency.”
Other former Operation Unifier commanders sanctioned included Lt. Col. Sarah Heer and Lt. Col. Melanie Lake, who also described the addition of the six senior Canadian officers as a sign of the mission’s value.
Canada first launched Operation Unifier in 2015. The move was a direct response to Russia’s annexation of the Crimean peninsula and its supply of arms, ammunition and even troops to pro-separatists. -Russians in eastern Ukraine.
The purpose of the mission, which evolved several times before being suspended before the Russian invasion, was to help Ukraine transform its post-Soviet military into a modern fighting force capable of defending the country.
The federal government says more than 33,000 Ukrainian troops were trained by Canada before the mission was suspended less than two weeks before Russia launched its full-scale invasion in February.
Gilbert was in the field when the order came from Ottawa for his 250 troops to pack up and leave Ukraine for Poland ahead of the Russian attack. He says that while he understands the order to leave, it was still “a little weird for us”.
“Once we were relocated to Poland, that’s where we went: ‘It just happened’,” Gilbert recalls. “The feeling is a bit weird for us because it’s against our nature. … We are trained to (fight), we are not supposed to leave in these kinds of situations.
Canada and its allies said before the Russian invasion that they would not deploy troops to Ukraine, fearing that such a move would escalate the conflict and lead to an all-out war between Russia and the alliance. NATO military. Western countries have instead provided financial and military support to Ukraine and imposed sanctions on Russia.
While planning for the withdrawal of Canadian troops began in November, when Russia first assembled thousands of troops on the Ukrainian border, Gilbert said it wasn’t until the end of January that everyone realized the threat was real.
Even then, however, there was uncertainty. Gilbert recalled his last meeting with a Ukrainian military officer before leaving the country in mid-February, during which the commander of Ukraine’s National Guard dismissed the threat of a Russian attack.
“He said, ‘We’re going to see each other soon because it’s not going to happen,'” Gilbert said. “I was convinced at that moment that something was going to happen. He was still convinced that it wasn’t really going to happen. … Unfortunately, I was right.
Gilbert and his troops spent about a month in Poland, during which time they finished packing for their eventual return to Canada. They have also been put on standby in case they are needed to provide humanitarian or other assistance.
All of the trainers under Gilbert’s command have since returned to Canada, although another group of 150 Canadian Armed Forces members recently returned to Poland to help some of the millions of Ukrainians who fled the Russian invasion.
Gilbert himself is now back at Canadian Forces Base Valcartier, where he commands the 5th Combat Engineer Regiment. However, he is technically still the commander of Operation Unifier, which is on hiatus but is expected to continue until March 2025.
Previous Operation Unifier commanders have suggested that the Canadian mission has helped the Ukrainian military become more agile by empowering and trusting those lower in the chain of command with information and to make decisions. .
This allowed the Ukrainians to defend themselves on multiple fronts and operate in ways the Russians did not expect, including deploying small teams that were instrumental in eliminating tanks and other Russian forces.
Gilbert agreed with this assessment, saying that while Operation Unifier also offered sniper training and other specialized instruction, “small unit tactics are the most powerful demonstration” of the contribution of the Canada.