LONDON — The Trudeau government is set to lend its support to a plan put forward Sunday by British Prime Minister Boris Johnson to ramp up the international response to Russia’s invasion of Ukraine.
In an essay in the New York Times, Johnson said international good-faith efforts at diplomacy “never had a chance” and called for harsher economic sanctions and more lethal aid to Ukraine, asking “have we done enough for Ukraine? The honest answer is no.”
Prime Minister Justin Trudeau arrived in London Sunday night ahead of meetings this week with European allies, including on Monday with Johnson and Mark Rutte, prime minister of the Netherlands — meetings Johnson said were part of the response he is calling for.
Johnson, the British Conservative who — until the Ukraine crisis — had taken political hits over his office’s parties in defiance of COVID-19 restrictions, will stand with the two liberal progressive leaders to talk about how the world needs to step up.
After taking Britain out of the European Union, Johnson’s efforts may also be an attempt to signal that the United Kingdom is a global partner in responding to the Ukraine crisis, said Sen. Peter Boehm, a former high-ranking Canadian diplomat.
Germany, said Boehm, has been taking a “very hard line” on Ukraine and leading from the front of the G7, while the U.S. is leading from the back and allowing others to step forward. He suggested Johnson wants to demonstrate solidarity if not leadership, while for Trudeau, “it’s a case of Canada stepping into a traditional role.”
“We’re obviously not a superpower but we’re a player in this particular conflict,” he said.
The trilateral meeting here Monday, Johnson wrote, is aimed at mobilizing the “widest possible” international humanitarian coalition to respond to the crisis, which he said is the first of six actions that are necessary to respond to the war in Ukraine.
The British prime minister also called for more military shipments of lethal aid, saying the West needs to “do more to help Ukraine defend itself … we must act quickly to co-ordinate our efforts.”
Johnson’s office said he spoke to Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskyy about the plan Sunday, and the British prime minister “undertook” to work with international partners to provide more military and humanitarian aid in the face of Russia’s “indiscriminate attacks and ceasefire breaches.”
Trudeau did not speak with reporters following him Sunday, but a senior government official on background said Canada is already doing what Johnson is calling for.
Canada’s humanitarian aid has taken several forms. Ottawa has pledged a total of $125 million (including a pledge to match donations to the Red Cross), and another $35 million in development assistance.
Ordinary Canadians have already donated $46 million to the Canadian Red Cross within the first week of an appeal to aid Ukraine. That does not include the federal government’s matching funds of up to $10 million.
Global Affairs Canada told the Star Sunday the donations are being reviewed and that the $10 million is to be transferred in the next few days.
“Over the past weeks we have seen this huge outpouring to what is happening there,” said Red Cross spokesperson Leianne Musselman.
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“To be honest, following a disaster or crisis, Canadians are always so generous and this has been no different,” she added.
The money will go “to send personnel, equipment and funds to support the (International) Red Cross and Red Crescent Movement response in Ukraine and surrounding countries.”
Teams on the ground in Ukraine and the region are trying to provide emergency assistance for displaced persons, for “basic needs such as food, shelter and water, helping people cope with psychological trauma and operating mobile health teams.” Some of the funds Canada has raised will help support “preparedness, long-term recovery, resiliency, and other critical humanitarian activities as needs arise.”
Among other measures Johnson calls for are even more severe sanctions, including “expelling every Russian bank from SWIFT and giving our law enforcement agencies unprecedented powers to peel back the façade of dirty Russian money in London.”
“We must go after the oligarchs,” said Johnson, who has faced criticism for not going far enough on that front. London is home to so many Russian billionaires it’s known as Londongrad.
Johnson defended his actions to date, saying the U.K. has sanctioned “more than 300 elites and entities, including Mr. Putin himself” but added those measures “will be insufficient unless Europe begins to wean itself off the Russian oil and gas that bankroll Mr. Putin’s war machine.”
Some European countries that are reliant on Russian energy supplies have been reluctant to delist all Russian banks from SWIFT because their payments for Russia’s oil and gas supplies go through the international transactions system, said a senior Canadian official.
Johnson’s essay stressed three other points — all were vague calls for the West not to be complacent in the face of Russia’s aggression, to be “open to diplomacy and de-escalation, provided that the government of Ukraine has full agency in any potential settlement” and a call for more defence forces to bolster NATO’s eastern flank as well as to offer support to “non-NATO European countries that are potentially at risk of Russian aggression, such as Moldova, Georgia and the nations of the western Balkans.”
At the same time, Johnson was blunt: “This is not a NATO conflict, and it will not become one,” he wrote. “The truth is that Ukraine had no serious prospect of NATO membership in the near future — and we were ready to respond to Russia’s stated security concerns through negotiation.”
Deputy Prime Minister Chrystia Freeland — who has rallied international support for punishing sanctions that hit Russia’s central bank’s ability to use its foreign reserves — said last week the U.K. and other G7 partners “are determined to continue ratcheting up the pressure.”
She and other Canadian officials have declined to say what other levers they have to put “maximum pressure” on Putin.
But NATO partners have ruled out a no-fly zone over Ukraine, which President Volodymyr Zelenskyy has demanded, and ruled out putting NATO soldiers into direct combat with Russian invaders.
However, the U.S. Secretary of State Antony Blinken told reporters Sunday in Moldova that the Biden administration is looking at providing fighter jets to Poland to “backfill” any gap in that country’s air defences if it supplies planes to Ukraine. “I can’t speak to a timeline, but I can just tell you we’re looking at it very, very actively,” he said.
In broadcast interviews, Blinken said the U.S. is not seeking regime change in Russia, just as Freeland said last week: “The internal affairs of Russia are a question for the Russians. Canada’s goal is a change in the foreign policy of Russia. It’s stopping the barbaric and illegal war that Russia is leading against Ukraine.”
Tonda MacCharles is an Ottawa-based reporter covering federal politics for the Star. Follow her on Twitter: @tondamacc
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