A member of the Canadian Forces stands on tarmac at the Canadian Forces base in the Persian Gulf, Sunday, February 19, 2017. Canada is extending its military missions in Ukraine and Iraq, both of which were due to expire at the end of the month. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Ryan Remiorz

Canada extends Iraq and Ukraine military missions to 2021 and 2022

Extension is part of efforts to curb Russian aggression and to fight against Islamic militants

Canada is extending its military missions in Ukraine and Iraq, both of which were due to expire at the end of the month.

The extensions shore up Canada’s contributions to the global effort to curb Russian aggression in Eastern Europe and to the fight against Islamic militants in the Middle East.

Defence Minister Harjit Sajjan and Foreign Affairs Minister Chrystia Freeland say the mission of about 200 Canadian Forces personnel in Ukraine will be extended to the end of March 2022.

The Forces have been involved in Ukraine since September 2015, helping train the country’s military, which is battling Russian-backed separatist forces.

Canada will extend the Canadian Forces’ contribution to the Global Coalition Against Daesh and the NATO mission in Iraq, until the end of March 2021.

Canada has about 500 military members in Iraq, including 200 who are part of a NATO training mission and 120 special forces who have been helping Iraqi forces root out Islamic State insurgents around the northern city of Mosul.

Those are parts of Canada’s larger Middle East strategy, which also includes humanitarian assistance and diplomatic engagement in Iraq, Syria and the surrounding region.

The decision to extend Canada’s commitment in Ukraine will be welcome news to that country as it continues to cope with Russia’s annexation of its Crimea region in 2014, and the continuing unrest in its eastern Donbass region, which is plagued by separatist rebels backed by Moscow.

“The people of Ukraine know they can count on Canada,” Freeland said in a statement. “We are steadfast in our commitment to Ukraine’s sovereignty and territorial integrity, as it works toward a stable, democratic and prosperous future.”

Ukraine is bracing for Russian interference in its upcoming presidential election on March 31.

Former foreign-affairs minister Lloyd Axworthy is leading a delegation of Canadian election monitors to Ukraine.

Freeland said Canada will host an international conference on Ukraine’s economy and political reforms in July that will include foreign ministers from the European Union, the G7 and NATO countries.

READ MORE: Syrian family can, finally, feel safe after settling in B.C.

READ MORE: Putin visits Crimea to mark 5th anniversary of annexation

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