Canada is sending additional troop to Eastern Europe as part of the NATO response to Russian aggression and Stephen Harper says his government is looking at making a bigger long-term defence commitment to the region to guard against Vladimir Putin’s “menace and expansionism.”
This deployment comes as Poland and North Atlantic Treaty Organization leaders call for permanent new bases in Eastern Europe to contain Russia after it seized Ukraine’s Crimean peninsula this spring.
“I believe what is occurring in Russia under President Putin is a serious development with serious long-term consequences. I don’t believe we should think for a moment that it will disappear in the near future,” Mr. Harper said in a joint press conference in Warsaw with Polish Prime Minister Donald Tusk.
“The menace, the expansionism he represents – I think it’s a long-term menace,” Mr. Harper said of the Russian president.
“Therefore … Canada is expending additional military resources here right now. And we are very much looking at options for additional presence going forward,” he said.
The Canadian Prime Minister stopped in Poland to talk about the threat of Russia before he heads to a Group of Seven meeting in Brussels Tuesday and Wednesday where the Ukraine crisis will dominate. The G7 has replaced the Group of Eight after members kicked out Russia in March over Crimea.
Mr. Harper avoided saying whether Canada supports a call for new NATO bases in countries that border Russia. The alliance will consider this proposal when NATO leaders meet in Wales in September.
But Mr. Harper said he’s very encouraged by U.S. President Barack Obama’s offer of extra military aid to Eastern European allies.
Mr. Obama promised on Tuesday to bolster defence support for NATO partners who fear Moscow may not be content to stop at annexing Ukraine’s Crimean peninsula.
The U.S. President promised up to $1-billion to support and train the armed forces of NATO allies that border Russia.
Canada already has six CF-18 fighter jets flying air policing operations in Romania, a frigate in the eastern Mediterranean and about 50 paratroopers training in Poland as part of the NATO military response to the new threat posed by Russia.
On Tuesday, Canada announced a Canadian Armed Forces contingent of about 75 soldiers will join Exercise Saber Strike 2014, an annual U.S.-led security co-operation exercise.
Mr. Harper said he will be pushing at the G7 meeting to keep existing sanctions on Russia and to establish clear criteria for expanding these penalties if Moscow creates further trouble.
“I think a couple of things are essential: that we maintain those that are in place and that we have in our minds pretty clear criteria that would cause us to move to additional levels of sanctions should the situation worsen,” the prime minister said.
Later this week, former Second World War allies are gathering in Normandy to commemorate the 70th anniversary of the D-Day landings and Mr. Putin will be among them, demonstrating by his presence that Moscow is not as isolated on the world stage as critics would like. Mr. Harper has rejected an offer to meet with Mr. Putin who will be getting together separately with both the leaders of France and Britain.
Mr. Harper is capping a European trip by this weekend returning to Ukraine to show support for Kiev’s new president-elect, President Petro Poroshenko, a former candy tycoon struggling to get his country back on a stable economic footing while battling pro-Russian separatists in the east and south. Mr. Harper will fly to Kiev for Mr. Poroshenko’s Saturday swearing-in ceremony.