Canada chips in another $60M for Ukrainian F-16 training as U.S. aid remains gridlocked

Canada is cutting another cheque for up to $60 million to help train Ukrainian pilots to fly the F-16, Defence Minister Bill Blair announced Wednesday as allies gathered in Brussels ahead of this week’s NATO ministerial meeting.

U.S. representative resists calls to end American leadership of Ukraine defence alliance

A fighter jet takes off in darkness.
A F-16 Fighting Falcon takes off during Exercise Max Thunder 17 at Gunsan Air Base, South Korea on April 26, 2017. (Carlos Jimenez/U.S. Marine Corps/Handout via Reuters)

Canada is cutting another cheque for $60 million to help train Ukrainian pilots to fly the F-16, Defence Minister Bill Blair announced Wednesday as allies gathered in Brussels ahead of this week's NATO ministerial meeting.

The contribution announced at the Ukraine Defense Contact Group (UDCG) meeting follows the federal government's announcement last month of a $15 million donation to pay for civilian pilot instructors from Montreal-based Top Aces Inc.

The F-16s are being donated by Norway, Denmark and the Netherlands.

Canada does not operate the U.S.-manufactured warplane but they are used by Top Aces, a private company that offers a wide range of fighter jet instruction.

Blair said Wednesday the new funds will help Ukraine pay for critical F-16 supplies and equipment such as spare parts, weapons stations, avionics and ammunition.

image of bill blair
Defence Minister Bill Blair says the money will help Ukraine maintain and equip their F-16s. (Adrian Wyld/The Canadian Press)

"Canada is committed to deepening coordination and cooperation with allies and partners as we work together to strengthen our support for Ukraine's self-defence and protect the rules-based international order," Blair said in a media statement.

For the second time this year, the United States is coming to a meeting of the UDCG with no additional funding or equipment commitments for Ukraine.

A $60 billion aid package for Ukraine is still hung up in the U.S. Congress. The Senate earlier this week passed a compromise bill that included funding for Ukraine, Israel and Taiwan.

On Tuesday, U.S. President Joe Biden called on Congress to take up the legislation as soon as possible, warning that any delay would play into "[Russian President Vladimir] Putin's hands."

The Ukrainian contact group meeting is taking place ahead of a regularly scheduled gathering of NATO defence ministers.

In a recent interview, Blair said Canada was making progress on getting Ukraine additional armoured vehicles, used for medical evacuation. When Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskyy visited Ottawa last fall, the Liberal government committed an additional $650 million to acquire at least 50 armoured vehicles.

"The first cohort of those is ready to go," Blair said. "There is an urgency, obviously, for that equipment in Ukraine, and we're working very hard to get that delivered."

"At the same time," he added, "I've got to strike a balance between what the Canadian Armed Forces also requires" and supporting Ukraine.

With U.S. military aid hung up in political infighting, there have been suggestions in European media reports that coordination of the contact group should be passed to another country.

A parade float depicts Donald Trump and a Ukrainian soldier.
A carnival float depicts former U.S. president Donald Trump stabbing a Ukraine soldier in the back during the traditional carnival parade in Duesseldorf, Germany on Monday, Feb. 12, 2024. (Martin Meissner/AP)

In an online question-and-answer session with reporters on Tuesday, U.S. Permanent Representative to NATO Julianne Smith rejected the notion.

"The United States has been very proud to lead the Ukraine Defense Contact Group over the last two years," said Smith. "This is a format that we believe is producing real results. And I anticipate, again, that the meeting that will happen this week will continue to trigger additional forms of support for Ukraine, and the U.S. will continue to invest in this process."

Smith also said she doesn't expect Ukraine to receive a formal invitation to join NATO when alliance leaders meet in Washington this summer.

"I do anticipate that the allies will be able to signal that the alliance continues to move closer to Ukraine, and that we are taking concrete steps to serve as a bridge between where we are now and that full-fledged membership," said Smith, adding the hope is that Zelenskyy will be able to attend in person.

"I think he will continue to hear unwavering unity and resolve in allies' support for his country. And we will be able to signal, most importantly, to President Putin that we aren't going anywhere in terms of our support for Ukraine. All of us will continue to support them for as long as it takes."

WATCH: EU leaders call for self-reliance following Trump's threats    

European leaders call for self-reliance after Trump NATO comments

2 months ago
Duration 1:46
Donald Trump's comments about not defending NATO countries that don't live up to defence spending commitments have European leaders saying they need to prepare to defend themselves on their own. Meanwhile, Canada's defence minister, Bill Blair, calls the statements 'rhetorical.'

Whether the United States sticks to that line very much depends on the outcome of the presidential election. Republican frontrunner Donald Trump has effectively threatened to tear up the NATO alliance, saying he's prepared to look the other way and allow Russia to do "whatever the hell they want" to alliance countries that don't meet military spending commitments.

"These alliances are America's strength. They are not a charity project," said Smith. "They serve U.S. interests directly, and they serve the interests of our allies directly."

Trump's remarks have drawn condemnation and concern from some European allies.

Smith said NATO defence ministers will talk this week about the progress countries have made on increasing defence budgets and meeting the NATO benchmark of spending the equivalent of two per cent of their individual gross domestic products on defence.

Smith suggested Trump was being reckless.

"Encouraging the Kremlin to attack any NATO ally or alliance territory really puts our soldiers, U.S. soldiers, and our allies' soldiers in greater danger," she said.

"Doing so, making those types of statements, is dangerous and, frankly, irresponsible."


Murray Brewster

Senior reporter, defence and security

Murray Brewster is senior defence writer for CBC News, based in Ottawa. He has covered the Canadian military and foreign policy from Parliament Hill for over a decade. Among other assignments, he spent a total of 15 months on the ground covering the Afghan war for The Canadian Press. Prior to that, he covered defence issues and politics for CP in Nova Scotia for 11 years and was bureau chief for Standard Broadcast News in Ottawa.