Prime Minister Justin Trudeau arrived Tuesday at one of NATO’s military bases on the Russian border after telling three Baltic leaders that Canada will stand with them to fight the Kremlin’s war on Ukraine and its cyberattacks on their countries.
“You are literally on the front lines of this challenge with Russia,” he said earlier Tuesday in the Latvian capital of Riga.
He made the remarks after meeting with the leaders of three Baltic NATO allies on Russia’s border as President Vladimir Putin’s invasion of Ukraine entered its 13th day.
“Quite frankly, you have been living not just with the military threat, not just with the history of occupation … but also, the daily use of propaganda and disinformation to try and undermine the democracy and the values you have,” he added, “something that is right now being weaponized against Ukraine, but also used very actively in all democracies around the West.”
After a meeting with Latvian Prime Minister Krišjānis Kariņš, Trudeau made the remarks in an expanded session via teleconference with their counterparts from Lithuania and Estonia.
Canada leads the NATO battlegroup, which is part of NATO’s long-standing deterrence efforts against Russia — a mission that taken on has new significance in light of the Russian invasion.
Trudeau and NATO Secretary-General Jens Stoltenberg are to meet on the Ādaži Military Base, where NATO troops are stationed in a mission led by several hundred Canadians.
The NATO mission in Latvia is one of four such efforts in the Baltics and Poland, designed to demonstrate the strength of the NATO alliance in the region against Russia.
Putin takes great offence at the NATO buildup on his country’s borders. He has opposed NATO’s expansion into countries that were once in the sphere of the former Soviet Union.
Ukraine is not a NATO member but was seeking membership in the 30-country transatlantic alliance as well as closer ties with the European Union. Russia annexed Ukraine’s Crimean Peninsula in 2014 after the overthrow of the Kremlin-backed administration in Kyiv.
That marked the most significant breach of Europe’s borders since the Second World War—a milestone now eclipsed by Russia’s invasion of Ukraine.
Trudeau says the ongoing show of unity among NATO allies and other democracies to back Ukraine and is a critical part of bringing the crisis to a close.
Kariņš told Trudeau the Russian invasion did not succeed in “driving a wedge between Europe and North America, driving a wedge between NATO partners.” Instead, he said, “the exact opposite” happened and there has been a “coming together of minds.”
Trudeau told the Baltic leaders that Canada has the third largest population of Ukrainians in the world after Ukraine and Russia, “so we are deeply, deeply troubled and engaged by this conflict in Ukraine.”
But he added impact of Russia’s actions are extraordinarily challenging for their citizens because they are so close to Russia.
“We are demonstrating that, unlike what Putin thinks or mistakenly thought, democracies can and will defend not just themselves and their territory, but the principles and rules and the and the values that actually make us successful,” Trudeau said.
The Latvian Freedom Monument and the country’s Foreign Ministry building were both lit up in Ukrainian blue and yellow light as Trudeau arrived in early morning hours of Tuesday. The entry to the Latvian PMO was framed by two massive blue and yellow banners that stretched several floors.
Defence Minister Anita Anand joined Trudeau for the meeting as a phalanx of cabinet ministers are fanning out across Europe during the prime minister’s four-country whirlwind visit.
His arrival in Riga came after a daylong visit to the United Kingdom for meetings with Prime Minister Boris Johnson and Dutch Prime Minister Mark Rutte.
By Mike Blanchfield