'It's less a question of if ... and more a question of what,' says senior Canadian government official
British Prime Minister Boris Johnson, left, welcomes Prime Minister Justin Trudeau during official arrivals for a NATO leaders meeting at The Grove hotel and resort in Watford, Hertfordshire, England, Wednesday, Dec. 4, 2019. (Francisco Seco/The Associated Press)
Prime Minister Justin Trudeau and his counterparts from the United Kingdom and the Netherlands are gathering in Europe to discuss prospects for more aid — principally lethal military aid — for the embattled Ukrainian Armed Forces as the invasion by Russia approaches its second week.
Trudeau departs for the continent today. His first stop on a four-country whirlwind tour will be London.
He's set to meet today with British Prime Minister Boris Johnson and Prime Minister of the Netherlands Mark Rutte as western nations struggle to keep the brutal war in Eastern Europe from spilling over Ukraine's borders.
Trudeau has said repeatedly that sanctions are the biggest weapon the West can deploy against Moscow, but international pressure on NATO is increasing after the western military alliance turned down a direct plea from Ukrainian President Volodomyr Zelensky to establish a no-fly zone to protect civilians.
"It's less a question of if Canada and its allies will provide more support for Ukraine and more a question of what, and that's part of next week's meetings," said a senior Canadian government official who spoke on background before the trip.
Over the last two weeks, Canada has sent Ukraine machine guns, carbines and handguns, along with 15 million rounds of ammunition. It has promised 4,500 M72 rocket launchers, up to 7,500 hand grenades and 100 Carl-Gustaf M2 anti-tank weapons, along with 2,000 rounds of ammunition.
Canada also has sent non-lethal equipment — fragmentation vests, helmets, metal detectors and night vision goggles. It has promised to spend an additional $25 million on helmets, body armour, gas masks and other gear.
Officials said the meeting of the three prime ministers is an opportunity to take stock of what each country can do.
"It's a really important opportunity for us as close partners to coordinate," said the senior official.
The chaotic seizure by Russian troops on Thursday of Ukraine's Zaporizhzhia nuclear plant — the biggest in Europe — and the possibility of a chilling catastrophe there is expected to shape the discussion among the leaders.
"It does make the situation more urgent than it already is," the official said.
During the attack on the nuclear plant in the southeastern city of Enerhodar, a Russian shell hit a training centre but did not strike any of the six reactors. Ukrainian and United Nations officials said no radiation was released.
Calls are mounting in several NATO countries for the alliance to take some kind of action to halt the indiscriminate slaughter of civilians.
The question, according to an international expert, is what can be done without igniting a full-blown war on the European continent.
"I understand entirely the reluctance of NATO allies, including Canada, to get into a direct fight with Russia," said Roland Paris, professor of international affairs at the University of Ottawa.
"That kind of conflict could escalate very quickly and get out of control, leading to a much bigger war. The leaders have a responsibility not just to the brave defenders of Ukraine ... they have a responsibility to the stability of the entire continent."
Later in the trip, Trudeau will visit Latvia, where Canada has 500 troops on NATO duty helping to reassure eastern European allies. He'll also visit Poland, which has absorbed the lion's share of Ukrainian refugees.
The prime minister is also due to visit Germany, where he intends to reinforce trade ties and the shared agenda on climate change.
"I don't know the number of times the prime minister has had a chance to speak to the new chancellor Germany and that relationship is going to be a very important one going forward," said Paris.