As talks with Russia stall, NATO chief warns of new war in Europe
The threat of another war in Europe is very real, NATO Secretary General Jens Stoltenberg said today after talks with Russia at the military alliance’s headquarters in Brussels.
Stoltenberg’s warning came as the Trudeau government faces growing political pressure from the vocal Ukrainian diaspora community in Canada to do more to help deter an invasion by Russian troops.
The NATO-Russia Council meeting ended without a firm commitment to further dialogue on Moscow’s demands. Russia is insisting that Ukraine be denied NATO membership and that the deployment of alliance troops and equipment in Eastern Europe be reduced to 1997 levels.
These claims were entirely denied by the alliance. Wednesday’s four-hour meeting between NATO ambassadors and a Russian delegation was a “defining moment for European security”, Stoltenberg said.
NATO was ready to negotiate with Russia over military exercises, arms control and missile deployments, he said, but this will not allow Moscow to decide which countries can join the alliance .
“There is a real risk of a new armed conflict in Europe,” Stoltenberg said during an availability after the meeting.
“There are significant differences between NATO allies and Russia. Our differences will not be easily overcome, but it is a positive sign that all NATO allies and Russia have sat around the table. same table and are committed to substantive issues.”
Moscow has repeatedly denied plans to invade Ukraine, but on Tuesday more than 3,000 Russian troops conducted a live-fire exercise near the border. Russian President Vladimir Putin has insisted his country needs written security guarantees that there will be no further NATO enlargement.
Stoltenberg said any use of force against Ukraine by the Russians “would be a serious strategic mistake” for which Russia would pay a heavy price.
His comments were echoed today by Prime Minister Justin Trudeau, who said he “unequivocally” condemned the threat of Russian aggression in a phone call the day before with Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky.
“Important consequences” for Russia
“We are all extremely concerned about this and are united as allies around the world in calling on Russia to defuse and [have] indicated that there will be significant consequences in the form of sanctions if further aggressive actions are taken by Russia,” Trudeau said.
He also said Canada “will continue to be there,” referring to the military training mission in Ukraine and the deployment of Canadian troops as part of a NATO-led battlegroup in Latvia.
Ukrainian Canadians alarmed by the prospect of war have called on the Liberal government to do more to help Ukraine through diplomacy and by strengthening its defences.
Last month, the Ukrainian Canadian Congress (UCC) submitted a series of policy recommendations to Foreign Affairs Minister Mélanie Joly. At the top of the list was a proposal to ship more defensive weapons to Ukraine, including anti-tank, anti-artillery, naval and air defense systems.
Joly did not rule out increasing military support for Ukraine — an option the federal government has been considering for months.
Allies halt equipment shipments to Ukraine
After the dissolution of the Soviet Union, Ukraine found itself with a vast military-industrial complex capable of producing everything from tanks and armored vehicles to aircraft and ballistic missiles. But many of the sophisticated modern systems used by NATO allies – like the Javelin anti-tank missile – are not in their inventory.
When Trudeau met with Zelensky in the summer of 2019, the Ukrainian president expressed interest in acquiring Canadian armored vehicles, which have an advanced design and are built to withstand powerful improvised explosives.
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As tensions run high in Ukraine, some of Canada’s allies have blocked shipments of defensive equipment to avoid further aggravating Russia. The UCC pointed to Germany’s refusal to allow “the purchase of anti-drone and anti-sniper systems through the NATO Support and Supply Agency”.
The UCC also wants Canada to restore Ukraine’s access to advanced satellite data, something the former Conservative government granted for a limited time after Russia annexed Crimea.
He also called for more sanctions against Russia, noting that in the years since Canada last imposed sanctions in March 2019, the United States and the European Union have taken steps to punish a Russian private security company, the Wagner Group.
The EU has accused the Wagner Group of human rights abuses in Ukraine and many other countries, including torture and extrajudicial executions.