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Canadian ex-diplomat not surprised by Ukrainian resistance

Lee Berthiaume, The Canadian Press

OTTAWA — Former Canadian diplomat Jill Sinclair has gone through the gamut of emotions over the past few months as she watched the Ukrainian people stand up to the Russian invader. But unlike many observers, she was never surprised by the strength of Ukrainian resistance.

“I see that people are really surprised at the way the Ukrainian army is defending itself, but also at the strength of Ukraine as a people and a country. I’m not. These people just had to look at what was going on there,” said Ms. Sinclair.

As early as 2016, the former assistant deputy minister at the Department of National Defense was chosen to represent Canada on Ukraine’s Advisory Council on Defense Reform (ACDR), whose goal was to help the country to reform his army from top to bottom.

So while Canadian soldiers were training soldiers in Ukraine, Ms. Sinclair was helping Kyiv modernize its operations to ensure that its army meets today’s standards.

“They had a very large reform program, which went from the top management to human resources, including the system of granting promotions. They had to replace their old model dating from the time of the Soviet Union,” she explained.

This kind of reform is often imposed on certain countries that wish to receive financial aid from Western countries. According to Ms. Sinclair, Ukraine led the composition of the group, which also included senior military officers from the United States, Great Britain, Germany, Poland and Lithuania.

Since Ukraine was fully involved in the project, the committee managed to continue its work despite many changes in the government. Four defense ministers have notably come and gone over the past six years, but they have all continued to consult the council.

“We were never afraid that one of them would decide to stop everything because they no longer needed our help,” said the former diplomat.

According to Sinclair, Ukraine’s 2014 Dignity Revolution — when millions of Ukrainians rallied to oust the pro-Russian government in place — was a clear sign that the country needed to forge closer ties with the rest of Europe.

To do this, changes had to be made not only to the army, but to the entire machinery of government.

“Anyone who has worked with Ukraine will tell you that they were working on a modernization because they wanted to, not because they were forced on them. She wanted to have a stronger democracy,” believes Ms. Sinclair.

The road has not always been easy, but despite the ongoing Russian invasion, the committee continues its work in Ukraine and offers its recommendations to the army and the government. Moscow’s actions only reaffirm that Kyiv must move away from it, according to Ms Sinclair.

Even though the war is far from over, Ms. Sinclair sees some challenges that will need to be addressed quickly, especially when it comes to supporting soldiers after their tour of duty.

“How do you deal with thousands of young men after a war where they have won battles and hopefully the war? It will be a challenge.”