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Former Canadian military chief to head Ukraine defence advisory council


Retired Gen. Rick Hillier to chair strategic advisory group, to be made up of former military commanders, supporting and advising Ukraine’s volunteer reserve forces

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A former Canadian top soldier will chair a new strategic council advising Ukraine’s territorial defence forces.

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On Friday, the Ukrainian World Congress (UWC) — a non-profit consortium of organizations affiliated to the world’s Ukrainian diaspora — announced that retired CAF General and former Chief of Defence Staff Rick Hillier will head the new group, alongside other former world military commanders, offering support and advocacy for the country’s 100,000-strong homeland defence militia.

“We will advise on issues on the military side where we could be of support or assistance,” Hillier told the National Post on Thursday.

“We want to be able to help define the very real needs of that territorial defence force, and make sure we meet it in the most precise manner possible.”

Part of the new council’s mandate centres around equipping members of Ukraine’s Territorial Defence Force, a 100,000-member volunteer militia of part-time civilian reservists, with personal protective gear.

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“These are civilians called into service with a minuscule amount of training and almost no equipment, but they were called into service to defend their families, their villages, their towns and their country,” Hillier said.

Just back from an inspection tour on the ground in Ukraine, the retired general and Canada’s former Chief of Defence Staff saw first-hand the challenges faced on the front lines.

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“One of the individuals I spent quite a bit of time with had watched a battalion of territorial defence forces pull into position in eastern Ukraine in their own civilian vehicles,” Hillier said.

“We said, maybe we in the world can do better.”

The initiative will raise money to outfit the civilian militia with protection equipment like helmets, flak jackets, medical supplies, eye protection, and combat boots.

“We’re not raising money for weapons, we’re raising money for personal protection,” Hillier stressed.

Equipping just one soldier costs around $2,500, Hillier said — expanding to $1.24 million for a 400-troop battalion, or $5 million to properly outfit a four-battalion brigade.

“The longer this goes on, the more risky and fragile the situation in the east will become for Ukraine, and the increased likelihood that Russia will extend the amount of territory that it controls,” Hillier said.

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And while many western nations have stepped up to help, Hillier said Canada could — and should — be doing more.

“I’d love to see (Ukraine President Volodymyr) Zelenskyy say to Canada ‘you’re our number one supporter.’ ” Hillier said.

“We’re a G7 nation, we can do more.”

Canada’s humanitarian commitments, he said, could be prevented altogether if more effort was put into defeating the Russian invaders outright.

“Why don’t we in Canada step up and help? Take 250 of our LAV IIIs, 50 Leopard tanks, recce (reconnaissance) vehicles and engineer vehicles, a spare parts package, ammunition,” he said.

“Move it to western Ukraine and bring in a team to train up a brigade of their defence force to be that counterattack reserve.”

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Aside from direct support, the council will also educate the West on how things really are in Ukraine, which Hillier describes as far more dire than Russia’s bumbling first steps in February.

“The reality right now is very different,” he said.

While Ukraine’s resolve blindsided Russian commanders expecting a swift and relatively effortless campaign, valuable lessons were learned.

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Woefully inadequate logistics systems were improved, electronic warfare now renders impotent most Ukrainian drones and UAVs, and withering walls of Russian artillery in the east now outnumber defenders 12 to one.

“They’ve got them in a bear hug, Ukrainians don’t have any reserves to put as a counterattack force, they can’t let go because the Russians will break through,” said Hillier.

“It can be changed by equipment and support from the West, but the amount of stuff that’s been delivered is minuscule compared to the need.”

One Ukrainian commander told Hillier American promises of four (M270) Multiple Launch Rocket Systems (MLRS) were “wonderful, we love it, but we need 400.”

Defence Minister Oleksiy Reznikov told Hillier he’d asked U.S. Secretary of State Antony Blinken to make more M142 HIMARS (High Mobility Artillery Rocket System) available, but was told of concerns Ukraine would use them to conduct strikes on Crimea.

Capable of ballistically hurling missiles 300 km, the first of four HIMARS trucks promised by America arrived in Ukraine on Thursday.

• Email: bpassifiume@postmedia.com | Twitter: bryanpassifiume

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