WARSAW, Poland — Prime Minister Justin Trudeau says his government was "extremely enthusiastic'' about helping NATO in Eastern Europe, and that a display of force is essential to make sure Russia understands the alliance is united in opposing its "illegitimate'' actions.
Trudeau was speaking at the end of a two-day summit in Warsaw, where NATO leaders moved to boost the alliance's military presence in the Baltic countries and Poland to reassure Eastern European members and deter further Russian aggression in the region.
Canada has agreed to send around 450 soldiers to Latvia, where they will form the core of a 1,000-strong battlegroup comprised of troops from other NATO countries. It has also pledged to keep one of its warships in the region and occasionally send fighter jets.
There was a sense that the Liberal government, which campaigned on a promise to increase Canada's involvement in peacekeeping, was reluctant to get drawn into NATO's standoff with Russia.
Prime Minister Justin Trudeau arrives at the PGE National Stadium, the venue of the NATO Summit, in Warsaw, Poland July 8, 2016. (Photo: Reuters)
Germany, the United Kingdom and the U.S. confirmed weeks ago that they were prepared to send large numbers of troops to help the alliance in Eastern Europe.
Canada's announcement came late last month, and only after U.S. President Barack Obama and NATO Secretary General Jen Stoltenberg took the unusual step of publicly asking the Canadian government to step up.
Asked about this perceived hesitancy, however, Trudeau told reporters: "Canada was, on the contrary, extremely enthusiastic about continuing to step up, as we have over the 67 years of NATO's existence in ways that are helpful to the alliance.
"Leading efforts in Latvia,'' he added, "was exactly something we saw as an opportunity for Canada to contribute security and stability, defence and deterrence at a time where that's very much necessary.''
Prime Minister Justin Trudeau said NATO must show it won't accept Russia's "illegitimate" actions." (Photo: CP)
Some, like Germany's foreign minister, have questioned about the wisdom of deploying a NATO force on Russia's borders, suggesting it would aggravate tensions between the alliance and Moscow. Trudeau, who campaigned on a promise to re-engage with Russia, defended the move.
Russia poses a challenge to security and stability in Ukraine, the rest of Eastern Europe and elsewhere, he said, and NATO must show that it stands united and won't accept its "illegitimate'' actions.
"We need to ensure that Russia is getting that message consistently and clearly from all members of NATO,'' he said. "That's really what this meeting is focused on.''