Canada Takes Over Leadership Of Military Observer Mission In Ukraine As It Moves Warship Into Strategic Position

DONETSK, Ukraine -- Canada is stepping into the increasingly tense showdown between Kiev and Moscow over the future of eastern Ukraine by taking over leadership of an Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe’s military observer mission in the central European country.

Her Majesty's Canadian Ship (HMCS) Regina.

Three Canadians from the Directorate of Arms Control Verification are to lead a nine-member team, Defense Minister Rob Nicholson said in a statement released Wednesday.

The other members will come from Ukraine, France, Moldova and the U.S.

A Canadian warship is being routed to Eastern Europe to help NATO in its tense standoff with Russia over the crisis in Ukraine, Prime Minister Stephen Harper said Wednesday.

HMCS Regina, one of the navy’s 12 frigates, had been patrolling with allies in the Arabian Sea as part of a multinational counter-terrorism mission, and is the latest Canadian military contribution in response to the Ukrainian crisis.

It is the first time that Canada has led such a mission.

Its job will be to monitor the deteriorating security situation across Ukraine until May 11.

Such observer duty does not come without hazards in the current situation.

Seven members of another OSCE team were kidnapped and have been held hostage since last week by pro-Russian militias in the town of Slovyansk.

Those holding that German-led team of observers have demanded the release of some of their supporters who have been jailed by the Ukrainian government and the dismantling of barricades in the centre of Kiev that played a central role in the coup that toppled the pro-Russian former Ukrainian president Viktor Yanukovych.

“This mission constitutes a strong show of support to Ukraine and is a concrete demonstration of Canada’s commitment to the security, sovereignty, and territorial integrity of Ukraine,” Nicholson said in a statement.

Canada’s participation “as lead inspectors constitute a concrete contribution to mitigating the crisis using existing arms control mechanisms,” said Maj.-Gen. Michael Hood, who is director of the strategic joint staff in Ottawa.

“They possess the necessary training and experience to undertake missions of this nature.”

Where the Canadian-led team will conduct inspections has not yet been decided.

They have been invited in by Ukraine because of “concerns of unusual military activity in the region,” a Department of National Defence statement said.

The OSCE is made up of 57 participating states, including all NATO allies.

“This mission constitutes a strong show of support to Ukraine and is a concrete demonstration of Canada’s commitment to the security, sovereignty, and territorial integrity of Ukraine.”

Six CF-18 fighters jets as well as about 250 associated support crew members left Tuesday for Romania, where the aircraft will patrol with allies in a show of strength intended to reassure Poland and the Baltic States, and convince Russia to backdown.

The frigate is crewed by 250 sailors, one of whom died last month while the ship was docked in Tanzania.

Leading Seaman Brandon South was a sonar operator aboard the Regina.

Officials said at the time they were still investigating his cause of death.

The announcement came as Ukrainian security forces were placed on full combat alert Wednesday after the acting president, Oleksandr Turchynov, told regional governors that his government’s security forces were “helpless” to stop pro-Russian militias in eastern Ukraine and must now try to save cities outside the region such as Odessa and Kharkiv from a similar fate.

Turchynov’s ominous declaration came as another swarm of armed supporters of union with Russia easily captured another municipal building and police headquarters in the eastern city of Horlivka and a city council building in the nearby town of Alchevsk.

These unopposed takeovers — walkovers is more like it — followed by a day a similar action in the border city of Luhansk.

With Wednesday’s assaults, there were now at least 14 cities and towns in the coal and steel-producing Donbass region where separatists sympathetic to Moscow who call themselves part of the People’s Republic of Donetsk now appear to control the political destiny of several million Ukrainians.

In each case, Ukrainian police provided little resistance.

In a few cases they joined those attacking the buildings they were supposed to be defending.

“Our main task is to prevent the terrorist threat from spreading to other regions of Ukraine,” Turchynov said as he announced the security alert.

There was a “real danger of continental war (being) unleashed against Ukraine,” he said, alleging a campaign by Russian intelligence operatives and special forces troops to create chaos and fear.

The swift, apparently well coordinated takeovers were designed by “the Russian leadership” to prevent Ukraine from staging presidential elections scheduled to take place on May 25, Turchynov said.

He became interim leader after a pro-western coup in Kiev two months ago and is to step aside after the ballot.

The confused security situation across eastern Ukraine, which shares a long border with Russia, has created jitters everywhere.

Perhaps nowhere are apprehensions higher than among the two million mostly ethnic Russians who live in the heavily industrialized city of Donetsk where separatist gangs seized municipal and regional offices on April 7.

Source: National Post