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Justin Trudeau heads to Europe to help organize more sanctions against Russia


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Justin Trudeau heads to Europe to help organize more sanctions against Russia

OTTAWA—Prime Minister Justin Trudeau travels to Europe next week to co-ordinate new sanctions against Russia and support for Ukraine — a trip that has become more urgent in the wake of a Russian attack that endangered a nuclear plant.

Trudeau said he’s looking for more ways to “support” Ukraine, “push back against Russia,” and “defend democracies better against the kind of misinformation and disinformation that has been part of this war in Ukraine since well before it started.”

To that end, Canada is willing to impose further economic measures as well as provide more military lethal aid to Ukraine, the prime minister’s office said, even as Trudeau himself, and all NATO allies, ruled out patrolling a no-fly zone over Ukraine.

“It’s not a question of if Canada and allies will provide more to Ukraine,” a senior government official said Friday, briefing reporters ahead of the trip. “It’s more a question of what, and that’s part of what next week’s meetings will help inform.”

Defence Minister Anita Anand will join Trudeau on part of the five-day trip, meeting three Baltic state leaders, the prime ministers of Latvia, Lithuania and Estonia, NATO Secretary General Jens Stoltenberg, and visiting Canadian Forces troops who are leading a battle group in Latvia within the NATO mission that is securing Europe’s eastern flank.

Anand, a senior official told the Star, has repeatedly “pushed” the department of national defence to come up with additional military gear and weaponry that the Canadian military can supply to Ukraine, particularly in response to that country’s requests and in alignment with allied contributions. Anand’s successive announcements have ramped up Canada’s contributions, going from non-lethal supplies of protective gear like helmets and goggles, and armoured vests to lethal anti-tank weapons systems, rocket launchers, and hand grenades. Canada will also provide high-resolution satellite images and thousands of ready to eat meals to Ukrainian troops, as well as airlift capacity to deliver the gear, but Ottawa will not say what route those deliveries will take.

Officials on Friday downplayed any “capacity” issues on Canada’s military side, saying the government is simply trying to match aid to requests.

However, Trudeau and other NATO allies have outright rejected Ukraine’s repeated calls for a no-fly zone over the war-torn country, saying it would draw NATO into a wider and direct war with Russia. Ukraine is not a member of NATO.

Trudeau said Putin “will fail” to achieve his goals militarily and the West is using economic “tools that will be far more impactful … than Putin’s army can be.”

Trudeau suggested international sanctions on Russia’s leaders, oligarchs, banks and exports are “crippling the Russian economy” and are the “biggest and strongest response” the West has employed and will continue to use to stop the war.

But Alexandra Chyczij, head of the Ukrainian Canadian Congress, lambasted the concerns of NATO allies who fear escalation, saying the failure to come to Ukraine’s aid and the bombing of Europe’s largest nuclear facility in Zaporizhzhia is “emboldening” Putin.

“These are the actions of a depraved and evil regime that must be stopped. … Close Ukraine’s airspace. Give them fighter jets. Give them more anti-air systems. Help them and they will win.”

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In a joint statement Friday from G7 foreign ministers, the G7 called for immediate and safe passage for Ukrainian and UN humanitarian agencies, medical personnel, and non-governmental agencies in Ukraine, saying the Russia-Ukraine agreement to establish humanitarian corridors is a first step.

The world’s largest economies urged Russia “to stop its attacks especially in the direct vicinity of Ukraine’s nuclear power plants. Any armed attack on and threat against nuclear facilities devoted to peaceful purposes constitutes a violation of the principles of international law.”

Trudeau said he spoke Thursday night with Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskyy, expressing his “deep concern” about the dangers posed by Russian shelling that caused the fire at the Zaporizhzhia nuclear power.

That fire was brought under control by Ukrainian firefighters Friday but the threat it posed put in stark relief the indiscriminate bombardment campaign Russia is leading to crush Ukrainian defences.

Ukrainian authorities had warned that if the power plant exploded the impact would be 10 times larger than the 1986 disaster at Ukraine’s Chernobyl plant.

The International Atomic Energy Agency said Friday there was “no release of radiation” as a result of the fire at the plant. Canada’s nuclear regulator says its staff knows the reactor technology in Ukraine and has offered assistance to the IAEA and the Ukrainian regulator.

U.S. Secretary of State Antony Blinken, who attended meetings of NATO and EU foreign ministers along with Canada’s Foreign Affairs Minister Mélanie Joly Friday, said “the stakes here are very real. They’re about real lives, real people, really human beings. And they are about large principles that we have to defend.”

“We’re being tested in a moment of crisis,” Blinken said, flanked by Ursula von der Leyen, president of the European Commission.

“Unfortunately, tragically, horrifically, this may not be over soon. And so these efforts that we’re making together, we have to sustain them, we have to build upon them, we have to get to the point together and … with so many other countries around the world who are united in their abhorrence of what President Putin has unleashed.”

Trudeau departs Sunday for London where he’ll sit down Monday for talks with British Prime Minister Boris Johnson who came out swinging against Russia’s “reckless” bombardment of Ukraine. Netherlands Prime Minister Mark Rutte will join them. Trudeau is also expected to meet with the Queen before heading to Latvia, and then to Germany.

In Berlin, the prime minister meets with German chancellor Olaf Scholz, whom Trudeau’s office described as an equally ambitious partner in the effort to bolster multilateralism and democracy, as well as fighting climate change. Lastly he travels to Poland to meet with President Andrzej Duda to talk about how Canada can support that country dealing with hundreds of thousands of Ukrainians fleeing the Russian invasion.

Officials said Friday “our general principle on the refugee response is going to be to do as much as we can.”

Tonda MacCharles is an Ottawa-based reporter covering federal politics for the Star. Follow her on Twitter: @tondamacc

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