By Lee Berthiaume, The Canadian Press
OTTAWA — Canada announced plans Tuesday to deploy hundreds of additional troops to eastern Europe and impose new sanctions against Russia as Western democracies rushed to respond to the deployment of Russian forces into Ukraine.
Prime Minister Justin Trudeau responded to Russia’s actions during a late afternoon news conference in which he accused Russian President Vladimir Putin of having ordered an invasion of eastern Ukraine – and attacking democracy.
“Russia’s flagrant disregard for the independence of a sovereign nation is a serious threat to security and stability in the region and around the world,” he said.
“Canada and our allies will defend democracy. We are taking these actions today in a stand against authoritarianism.”
Yet it remained unclear what if anything the new measures, which Trudeau announced in concert with similar moves by Canada’s allies in the United States and across Europe, would do to end the crisis.
Putin on Monday signed a decree recognizing the regions of Donetsk and Luhansk in Ukraine’s eastern industrial land as independent republics. He then ordered Russian troops to cross the border into those areas, saying they were being deployed as “peacekeepers.”
Donetsk and Luhansk have been embroiled in fighting for the past eight years after Russia annexed Ukraine’s Crimea peninsula and started providing support to pro-Russian separatists in the two eastern regions. An estimated 14,000 people have died in that conflict.
Putin’s actions on Monday sparked a new chapter in that fight and came after a massive Russian military buildup on the country’s border with Ukraine sparked weeks of furious negotiations and dialogue to prevent an invasion that many fear could spark a broader war in Europe.
Trudeau followed U.S. President Joe Biden and European leaders in condemning Putin’s actions as he delivered Canada’s response alongside Deputy Prime Minister Chrystia Freeland, Foreign Affairs Minister Melanie Joly and Defence Minister Anita Anand.
Canada is sending an additional 460 troops to reinforce the NATO military alliance in eastern Europe, Trudeau said. That includes a 100-soldier artillery unit to Latvia, which will join 540 other Armed Forces members leading a NATO battlegroup in the Baltic state.
A Canadian frigate, the HMCS Halifax, and a CP-140 Aurora patrol plane are also being deployed to eastern Europe, with all the promised forces expected in theatre by the end of March.
The prime minister said the measures are intended to “reinforce our commitment to NATO and promote peace and security in the region.”
While the additional Canadian forces will no doubt be welcome by Latvia and NATO, which had been hoping for reinforcements for the past few weeks, Trudeau sidestepped a question about why the government did not announce them sooner.
Putin previously demanded that NATO promise not to admit Ukraine as an alliance member, and that the organization withdraw all its forces from post-Soviet-controlled countries such as Latvia, Lithuania, Estonia and Poland.
At the same time, the Latvian government had been asking for additional NATO troops for weeks even as other alliance members such as the United States, Denmark, Spain and the Netherlands moved to reinforce the organization’s military presence in eastern Europe.
“One of the things that we have seen with Putin’s demands around Ukraine and NATO presence that far from seeing a reduction of Western forces in eastern Europe,” Trudeau said. “Vladimir Putin has achieved the opposite.”
The prime minister also announced what he described as a first round of sanctions against Russia, which include banning any financial dealings with Luhansk and Donetsk, and Russian politicians who supported a motion calling for them to be recognized as independent.
Canada is also applying sanctions on two Russian banks and barring the purchase of Russian sovereign debt, following Washington, London and other allies in an attempt to strangle Russia’s financial means to fund any war effort.
“As the economic pressure mounts from the sanctions imposed by Canada and its allies, Russia will need to seek new funding by leveraging their sovereign debt,” Freeland said.
“We will make it illegal for Canadians to join in that effort, both directly and indirectly. Without a way to recover these costs the Russian economy will be severely impacted.”
She added that further sanctions will be imposed if Russia continues with its aggression.
Canada and its allies had previously warned Moscow of severe economic consequences if it invaded Ukraine. Yet Western powers also made clear the fate of Ukraine wasn’t worth a direct military confrontation with Russia and the possibility of a world war.
The threat of financial ruin appears to have done little to dissuade Putin, and the question remained Tuesday about how effective such threats will be in preventing a broader war.
Trudeau suggested Putin had underestimated the degree to which Europe and North America would respond to any violation of Ukraine’s territorial integrity and sovereignty, including Germany’s decision to suspend the certification of a key natural gas pipeline with Russia.
German Chancellor Olaf Scholz’s announcement on the Nord Stream 2 pipeline — a lucrative deal long sought by Moscow, but criticized by the U.S. for increasing Europe’s reliance on Russian energy – headlined Europe’s response to Putin’s actions.
Asked what Canada wants to see from Russia, Trudeau said: “We are looking for Russia to stand down, to cease its violations of Ukrainian sovereignty, Ukrainian territorial integrity, to return to negotiation tables.”
— with files from The Associated Press.