Canada working on getting more weapons to Ukraine, Trudeau says

Canada is looking at ways to get more weapons into the hands of Ukrainian soldiers, Prime Minister Justin Trudeau said Thursday after an emergency meeting of NATO leaders.

He made the commitment even though his own defense minister, Anita Anand, has acknowledged publicly that the Canadian military’s stock of surplus weapons available for donation is largely depleted.

“We’ll continue to try and help out in the best possible way we can, and as [Ukrainian President Volodomyr] Zelensky has been asking for various new pieces of equipment, we’re looking at what we can send,” Trudeau said.

“At the same time, we’re also committed to looking at procuring that equipment directly for Ukrainians.”

Prime Minister Justin Trudeau takes part in a plenary session at NATO Headquarters in Brussels, Belgium on Thursday, March 24, 2022. (Sean Kilpatrick/The Canadian Press)

The prime minister offered no details on what Canada could contribute or buy.

Trudeau also hinted — more strongly than he has in the past — that his government is prepared to spend more on defence. Trudeau has been asked repeatedly about Canada’s defense budget over the past few weeks but has declined to give a direct answer.

The Liberal government’s 2017 defense policy set out a schedule for increasing spending on the military by 70 per cent over a decade — targets that have largely gone unmet because of delays in new equipment purchases.

On Thursday, NATO said it expected member nations to submit their revised defense spending plans by the time NATO leaders meet again in June. Trudeau would not say whether his government will increase defense spending beyond what was already promised.

Zelensky issued a direct appeal to NATO allies earlier in the day for high-end military equipment his country urgently needs to fight off Russia’s invasion — tanks, aircraft and anti-ship missile systems.

The Ukrainian president demanded a clear answer from the alliance. The response he got from NATO’s secretary general was somewhat muted: Jens Stoltenberg confirmed a previous decision by the alliance to supply Ukraine with equipment to protect against chemical, biological and nuclear attacks.

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Analyzing NATO’s response to Russian aggression

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Trudeau, who has spoken often with Zelensky, would not say Thursday whether he endorsed allies sending Ukraine weapons systems larger and more complex than the anti-aircraft and anti-tank rockets already provided.

The list of equipment Canada has sent or promised Ukraine includes machine guns, carbines, hand guns, ammunition, and anti-tank rockets, along with non-lethal items like flak vests and field rations.

Some of that material is still in the process of being delivered.

Christian Leuprecht, a professor at the Royal Military College of Canada, said he doubts the country’s military can contribute much more of its own equipment without undermining its own readiness.

“Canada has paid it forward [in Ukraine] because it knew and realized that many of the continental European powers couldn’t or would do [it],” he said.

“Canada paid it forward on both the [Ukraine] training mission and on the enhanced forward presence [the NATO battle group in Latvia]. As the recent week showed, when allies came and asked for Canada to do more, Canada had virtually nothing to give … We sent a few surplus items that we had in stores.”

Also Thursday, Trudeau announced sanctions against 160 members of the Russian Federation Council. The government also said that, in the coming days, new prohibitions to ban the export of certain goods and technologies to Russia will be introduced. The aim of those sanctions is to undermine and erode the capabilities of the Russian military.

The United States and the United Kingdom also imposed more sanctions.

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