Canada reassures Baltic allies ahead of Nato showdown with Trump

Justin Trudeau also criticises Russia ahead of Trump-Putin summit in Helsinki

Canadian prime minister Justin Trudeau: “We are absolutely committed to the protection of our allies and global peace and security.” Photograph: Ilmars Znotins/AFP/Getty Images

Canadian prime minister Justin Trudeau: “We are absolutely committed to the protection of our allies and global peace and security.” Photograph: Ilmars Znotins/AFP/Getty Images

 

Canada has restated its commitment to defending allies in eastern Europe and criticised the Kremlin’s aggression, ahead of a potentially tricky Nato summit and talks between US president Donald Trump and Russian counterpart Vladimir Putin.

Canadian prime minister Justin Trudeau announced in Latvia on Tuesday that his country’s troops would stay until at least 2023 in the Baltic state, where they lead a multinational battalion as part of Nato efforts to ward off any threat from neighbouring Russia.

The reassurance from Canada came in stark contrast to comments made by Mr Trump ahead of his meeting with fellow Nato leaders, whom he has lambasted for “taking advantage” of the US and not spending enough on defence.

“These are uncertain times and I assured the [Latvian] prime minister that Canada will continue to step up, as we always do. We remain unwavering in our support for security in the Baltic region,” Mr Trudeau said after meeting Latvian counterpart Maris Kucinskis.

“I want to be clear: we are absolutely committed to the protection of our allies and global peace and security.”

‘Primitive measure’

Nato expanded its troop presence close to Russia in the wake of Mr Putin’s annexation of Crimea in 2014 and his role in carving out separatist fiefdoms in eastern Ukraine, where four years of fighting have killed more than 10,300 people and displaced 1.6 million.

While Canada commands a battle group in Latvia, Germany leads a similar unit in Lithuania and Britain and the US performs the same role in Estonia and Poland respectively.

Despite rowing back last year on comments that Nato was “obsolete”, Mr Trump continues to complain that most alliance members are not meeting a defence-spending guideline of 2 per cent of their gross domestic product.

Canada falls short of that mark, but Mr Trudeau dismissed it as a somewhat “primitive” measure of a country’s commitment to protecting itself and its allies.

‘Very dishonest’

The disagreement is likely to exacerbate tension between the north American neighbours, following the imposition of tit-for-tat tariffs on each other’s goods and Mr Trump’s refusal to sign a joint communique at last month’s G7 summit in Quebec, after which he called Mr Trudeau “very dishonest and weak”.

Many Nato leaders, and Ukraine, are also concerned about how Mr Trump will approach talks with Mr Putin in Helsinki next Monday, the US president having long advocated a rapprochement with Russia.

“We certainly hope that the message is passed clearly to President Putin that his actions in destabilising and disregarding the international rules-based order that has been successfully underpinned by Nato amongst others over the past 75 years or so is extremely important,” Mr Trudeau said.

“We certainly hope that Russia will choose to become a more positive actor in world affairs than it has chosen to be in the past.”