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Canadian troops in Ukraine? The Minsk II Agreement says they need to be pulled out right now

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Minsk II Protagonists

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Are Canadian troops still serving in Ukraine?

If so, they are now in direct violation of the Minsk II Agreement brokered by German Chancellor Angela Merkel and French President Francois Hollande and signed by the Ukrainian and Russian presidents on Feb. 11.

Either way, Canadians deserve to know whether our soldiers remain in Ukraine.

If they do remain, Defence Minister Jason Kenney has only one proper course of action, and that is to immediately pull them out in the cause of peace and respect for "the most basic humanitarian, legal and, indeed, moral norms of international conduct," as former external affairs minister John Baird put it in an only slightly different context not so long ago.

Under Point 10 of the 13-point German-French-brokered ceasefire agreement, the signatories agreed to: "Pullout of all foreign armed formations, military equipment, and also mercenaries from the territory of Ukraine under OSCE supervision."

This was presumably intended as a reference to the 10,500 Russian troops the Ukrainian government and its Western supporters say are operating in the country's Russian-speaking eastern regions. For its part, Russia insists this is not true and has called on the powers backing the Ukrainian government to produce satellite photos or other evidence to support the claim.

Nevertheless, there are known to be U.S. and other western troops -- presumably still including the tiny group of about 10 Canadian soldiers -- in the country, and the ceasefire agreement says what it says.

Back in December 2014, by which time the situation in Ukraine had deteriorated into a full-scale fight that had strong characteristics of a civil war, then-defence-minister Rob Nicholson announced that Canada was immediately sending the Canadian soldiers to Ukraine to train Ukrainian troops.

Rather typically of the government of Prime Minister Stephen Harper, Nicholson made the announcement in the Ukrainian capital, Kiev, not anywhere in Canada.

In the Globe and Mail's account of that announcement, Nicholson was quoted as saying the small unit of Canadian military police troops arrived in Ukraine on December 8 and immediately set to work training Ukrainian soldiers.

"Russia has flagrantly violated the territorial integrity of Ukraine and continues its efforts to intimidate and undermine the democratically elected government in Kiev," said a joint declaration issued that day by the Canadian and Ukrainian governments.

This may or may not be a fair description of the facts, given both the strong popular support for reunification with Russia in the disputed territory of Crimea, which by then was already under full Russian control, and the way the government of Ukrainian President Petro Poroshenko came to power in February 2014.

The latter has been described as a coup and was certainly in violation of the country's constitution. What's more, Ukrainian tactics in the U.S.-backed military actions that followed -- which lately have not been going Ukraine's way -- have created a rift in the country that is likely to be permanent, according to the conservative Financial Times, and reduced support for the war in all parts of Ukraine, according to the New Yorker magazine.

It is true, though, that Ukrainian parliamentary elections took place in October 2014, although how fair they were or whether they took place in all parts of the country remain the subject of competing claims.

Meanwhile, whether or not the Canadian troops now remain in Ukraine is unclear. The time and duration of their mission was not explained when the announcement was made by Nicholson, who was appointed minister of foreign affairs after Baird's sudden resignation on Feb. 3.

The December 8, Globe and Mail story left the impression, without quite stating it, that the number and role of the Canadian troops arriving that day would grow. However, not much more about that seems to have been said by the Canadian government. Nor has there been any announcement the Canadian troops have been pulled out.

Yesterday, Kenney made an ambiguous statement in which he promised Canadians would not be on the front lines, but left it unclear whether they are in the country now, or, if they are, how many. "Our men, should they be deployed to the [U.S.-led training] mission would be far out of harm's way," Kenney was quoted as saying in a Global News story. (The awkward parenthetical explanation is from Global.)

If Canada fails to follow through on the logistically easy task of removing its tiny unit of military police troops, as well as any other military personnel that may have followed them to Ukraine, it will certainly appear to be an effort by Canada to deliberately sabotage the ceasefire -- a policy that is un likely win us many friends in Europe, including in Germany and France, which brokered the agreement because they are desperate to avoid a dangerous war so close to their borders.

Of course, if the Minsk II deal falls apart, as is considered likely by many observers, and assuming that the Canadian Government wishes to continue its belligerent policy in Ukraine, as also seems likely, it would be logistically easy for the unit to be sent back then.

Just the same, if we're going to behave like a proper member of the community of nations -- as we've been lecturing certain other countries to do -- we need to walk the walk, and not just talk the talk. At this particular moment in that particular location, the direction of that walk needs to be to the west!

This post also appears on David Climenhaga's blog, AlbertaPolitics.ca.

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