OTTAWA — The Liberal government's cabinet retreat wraps later today with pressure mounting on Prime Minister Justin Trudeau to take substantive new action on addressing the Ukraine-Russia crisis.
The options could see Canada joining its NATO allies in imposing export controls on Russia to deprive it of sensitive technology related to artificial intelligence, which is being actively considered by the United States.
Last week, Trudeau announced Canada was giving Ukraine a $120-million loan aimed at bolstering the country's economy in the face of the ongoing threats it faces from Russia, but said the government was considering further actions that would be discussed by his cabinet.
But the government has been under growing pressure to do more.
Ukrainian Canadians, and the Ukrainian government in Kyiv, are asking Canada to provide weapons to the Ukraine military, impose further sanctions on Russia and extend Canada's military training mission of its forces beyond its expiry date at the end of March.
Russia has positioned about 100,000 troops across Ukraine's borders along with tanks and other heavy artillery, raising fears across Europe and the NATO military alliance of an invasion, something Russia has denied.
Senior White House officials on Tuesday discussed some of the options for countering any further Russian incursions into Ukraine, following the Kremlin's annexation of the Crimean Peninsula in 2014 and its fomenting of Russian-backed separatist rebels in the Ukraine's eastern region, which has claimed thousands of lives.
U.S. officials say a fresh round of export controls that would cut off Russian President Vladimir Putin's access to some much-coveted technology is being considered by Washington and its allies.
"In addition to financial sanctions, which have immediate and visible effect on the day they're implemented, we're also prepared to impose novel export controls that would deal Putin a weak strategic hand over the medium term," said one senior U.S. official, speaking on the condition of anonymity as per ground rules of the media briefing.
The official said export controls are effective because they leverage "the global dominance of U.S.-origin software, technology and tooling" that extend into artificial intelligence, defence, aerospace and other sectors.
"The export control options we're considering alongside our allies and partners would hit Putin's strategic ambitions to industrialize his economy quite hard," said the U.S. official. "And it would impair areas that are of importance to him."
On Tuesday, three Conservative MPs called on the Liberal government to redirect weapons to Ukraine that were originally intended for Kurdish Peshmerga fighters in northern Iraq.
The Trudeau cabinet's closed-door meeting in Ottawa is unfolding against a much larger backdrop of high-stakes diplomacy in Paris as the top advisers from Russia, France, Germany and Ukraine — the so-called "Normandy format" — to ratchet down tensions and find a solution.
Ottawa followed its allies on another key move on Tuesday by ordering the children and family members of its embassy staff in Ukraine to leave the country.
The decision came after Britain said it would pull some of its diplomats out of its Ukraine embassy, and after the U.S. State Department decided to order the families of its Ukraine embassy personnel to leave.
"The safety and security of Canadians, our personnel and their families at our missions abroad is our top priority," Global Affairs Canada said.
On Monday, decision by Global Affairs updated its travel advisory warning against non-essential travel to Ukraine, which has been in effect since last week. The advisory now suggests Canadians who are in Ukraine consider leaving.
This report by The Canadian Press was first published Jan. 26, 2022.
Mike Blanchfield, The Canadian Press