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Trudeau, NATO leaders hear plea from Zelenskyy for military support

Ukraine president wants clear response to requests for fighter jets and tanks to bolster his forces
In this photo provided by the Ukrainian Presidential Press Office on Thursday, March 17, 2022, President Volodymyr Zelenskyy, shakes hands with a wounded Kateryna Vlasenko, 16, a refugee from Vorzel who covered her junior brother with her body during Russian shelling as they ran from their home town in a hospital in Kyiv, Ukraine. (Ukrainian Presidential Press Office via AP)

Ukraine President Volodymyr Zelenskyy has delivered an urgent plea for military aid to Prime Minister Justin Trudeau and other NATO leaders, pointedly calling them out for failing to do everything possible to help his country.

Russia’s invasion of Ukraine has left Europe facing its biggest security threat since the Second World War, but also left hundreds of civilians and thousands of soldiers dead in Ukraine, and displaced 10 million people since the fighting started one month ago.

Zelenskyy repeated his request Thursday for NATO to enforce a no-fly zone over Ukrainian airspace to protect his people from Russian bombs and missiles — an ask that NATO’s secretary general labelled as a no-go.

In the text of his address posted to his official website, Zelenskyy also chastised NATO members for failing to provide a clear response to his previous plea, or subsequent requests for fighter jets and tanks to bolster his forces.

Zelenskyy didn’t blame NATO for the war in his country, but his remarks suggested deep frustration with the seeming lack of political will among NATO members to provide Ukraine all the weapons needed to fend of Putin’s forces and prevent further deaths.

“Ukraine is very much waiting, awaiting real action, real security guarantees, from those whose word is trustworthy, and whose actions can keep the peace,” reads Zelenskyy’s posted remarks.

The remarks coloured a day-long event in the Belgium capital that includes three different summits, two of which Trudeau will be a part of: One with NATO allies, and another with G7 countries. All are focused on finding a path toward ending the fighting in Ukraine.

Arriving at the alliance’s glassed-in headquarters Thursday morning, Trudeau said NATO members were united in their condemnation of the “illegal, brutal invasion of a friendly democracy” in Ukraine. Trudeau also said alliance members were equally united in their support for Ukrainians who are fighting for the values that underpin democracies.

Canada has provided military equipment and lethal aid to Ukraine along with other allies, as well as economic sanctions targeted at allies of Russian President Vladimir Putin.

The U.K. on Thursday unveiled 65 new sanctions to cut funding to Russia’s military. Canada and its allies, including the United States, are expected to unveil other, new sanctions later in the day.

Trudeau toured Europe two weeks ago, where he held meetings in London, Berlin and Warsaw. He also visited Canadian troops leading a NATO multinational battlegroup in Latvia.

NATO secretary-general Jens Stoltenberg said the military alliance is sending more troops to the eastern part of Europe to bolster its forces facing Russia.

Speaking to reporters ahead of the meeting, Stoltenberg said he also expected alliance members to accelerate defence spending to confront NATO’s most serious crisis in generations.

“We need to do more, therefore, we need to invest more,” he said. “There is a new sense of urgency. I expect that the leaders will agree to accelerate the investments on defence.”

The comments added to pressure on Trudeau’s government to boost Canada’s defence budget, which according to NATO estimates stands at 1.39 per cent of the country’s gross domestic product in 2021, below NATO’s two-per-cent goal.

Canada’s defence budget rarely increase at the yearly rate that would be needed to meet the NATO target, said David Perry, an expert on defence spending from the Canadian Global Affairs Institute.

He also said the government would have to make decisions swiftly on things like fighter jets to replace the fleet of CF-18s among other large procurement efforts that take years to come to fruition.

“There’s no kind of easy, quick solution where the government waves a magic wand and we’re at two per cent,” Perry said.

A Scotiabank preview of the budget suggests the current political landscape makes it hard to see how the Liberals could reach NATO’s spending targets in the short-term.

Any new spending would have to muscle space alongside pharmacare and dental care inked into a “confidence-and-supply” agreement with the NDP in exchange for that parties support in key votes.

On Wednesday, Defence Minister Anita Anand made no mention of aggressive spending options during testimony before a House of Commons committee, instead pointing to planned increases included in the government’s 2017 defence policy.

Even with those planned increases, the government projected it would fall short of NATO’s target.

“I will say that our government has been making critical smart investments into our forces,” she said, adding that spending increases are aimed at ensuring the military has “the right people, equipment, training and culture.”

—Jordan Press, The Canadian Press

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