A Canadian weapons manufacturer based in Winnipeg is getting ready to export sniper rifles to Ukraine.
The rifles sale comes days after Canada extended to March 2022 Operation UNIFIER, Canada’s defence and military training mission to Ukraine. It also comes 16 months after Canada amended the Automatic Firearms Country Control List to include Ukraine. The list allows companies to apply for a permit to export firearms and weapons to named countries.
Canada is selling Ukraine the rifles in the wake of extreme tensions and armed conflict between Ukraine and Russia. Since 2014, the two countries have been in a conflict over eastern Ukraine; Russia also seized the Crimean Peninsula that year. Now Ukraine is in the middle of presidential elections, while the eastern part of the country continues to fight separatists backed by the Russian army.
Ukraine’s addition to the list marks Canada’s willingness to help Ukraine step closer to membership in NATO, ultimately pulling away from Russia’s influence.
Should the government receive new information suggesting that the agreed-to end-use is not being respected, the minister has the power to suspend or cancel export permits
—Pierric Le Dorze, policy analyst with Global Affairs Canada
PGW Defence Technologies signed the $1-million weapons deal back in August 2018 to sell Ukraine their LRT-3, .50 BMG bolt-action rifles with spare parts and accessories, according to CBC. The co-owner of PGW Defence Technologies told CBC he is not particularly concerned that selling weapons to Ukraine would escalate the conflict there.
“Since the dawn of time, mankind has been engaged in war, and part of that is equipping yourself properly,” Ross Spagrud told CBC. Spagrud and a partner with PGW Defence Technologies did not return multiple emails from The Toronto Observer.
The rifle has been produced in Canada since 2005. According to Military Times, it is “easily capable of disabling light vehicles and punching though armour with deadly effect.”
Before a manufacturer can export its weapons, it has to apply to Canada’s minister of foreign affairs for a permit. Global Affairs Canada said that the minister looks closely at each application.
“Each permit application will be assessed on a case-by-case basis to ensure its consistency with Canada’s international obligations and foreign policy and defence priorities,” said spokesperson Amy Mills in an email.
Canada recently extended its commitment of 200 training soldiers in western Ukraine. The Canadians are providing sniper courses, among other types of military training, CBC News reported.
Canadian weapons have travelled to other conflict areas. PGW Defence Technologies sold the same LRT-3 rifles to Saudi Arabia in 2016. The weapons reportedly ended up in the hands of Houthi rebels.
— Fenton (@anthonyfenton) July 28, 2017
Minister of Foreign Affairs Chrystia Freeland continues to express Canada’s support for Ukraine.
Today marks the fifth anniversary of Russia’s illegal invasion and annexation of Crimea. We continue to condemn this violation of Ukraine’s sovereignty and territorial integrity in the strongest terms. Read my statement: https://t.co/dttFSs1TvW
— Chrystia Freeland (@cafreeland) March 16, 2019
“Ukraine is an important ally for Canada,” Freeland said. “Canada strongly stands for Ukraine’s territorial integrity and Canada is very clearly opposed to the illegal annexation of Crimea by Russia and to the Russian-supported continued aggression in the Donbas.”
Canadian officials say they “closely control” the export of military goods and technology to countries involved in war and other types of conflict.
“Should the government receive new information suggesting that the agreed-to end-use is not being respected, the minister has the power to suspend or cancel export permits,” said Pierric Le Dorze, an analyst with Global Affairs’ export controls policy division, in an email.
Citing commercial confidentiality, Global Affairs Canada would not comment on any applications for weapons export permits. However, the department confirmed that in 2017, 13 permits were issued for the export of military goods and technologies to Ukraine. These permits could have been issued in 2017 or in an earlier year. The data for 2018 should be made public around May 31 of this year, Le Dorze said.
A University of Toronto professor is not sure how much Russia will treat the sale as a threat.
“I can’t imagine Russia being happy about that,” said Seva Gunitsky, associate professor of political science at the Munk School of Global Affairs and Public Policy at the University of Toronto.
Gunitsky believes that Russia doesn’t like Canadian presence anywhere near its borders because Canada is an example of a peaceful advanced industrial society.
“(Russia) considers NATO presence a threat,” he said. “So, Canada’s involvement in (Ukraine) is obviously something that Russia sees very negatively.” To Gunitsky, Canada’s participation — even on a symbolic level —sends the message that the world’s advanced countries are standing behind Ukraine.
Canada’s recent budget includes $105.6 million dedicated to Operation UNIFIER over the next three years. Besides providing military and defence training, Canada entered into the Canada-Ukraine Defence Cooperation Arrangement, adopted its own version of the U.S. Magnitsky Act and signed the Canada-Ukraine Free Trade Agreement.