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Defence Minister Anita Anand speaks during a news conference on Feb. 24, as Deputy Prime Minister Chrystia Freeland, Prime Minister Justin Trudeau and Foreign Affairs Minister Melanie Joly look.Adrian Wyld/The Canadian Press

Canada has placed 3,400 military personnel on standby for deployment to Europe if necessary, Defence Minister Anita Anand announced Thursday.

The army, navy and air force personnel are being readied for the “NATO response force should they be needed,” she said.

Russia launched a wide-ranging offensive against Ukraine early Thursday morning – the biggest attack on a European state since the Second World War.

Several NATO members, including Latvia and Estonia, have formally requested consultations under Article 4 of the military alliance’s treaty, which calls for meetings when “the territorial integrity, political independence or security of any of the parties is threatened.” The two Baltic countries – both former Soviet republics – have long feared that Russian expansionism will one day target them as well.

NATO created the response force almost 20 years ago, and member countries pledge contributions to it.

Putting troops on standby for deployment means raising their level of readiness so they can move at short notice.

The 3,400 troops are in addition to the 1,260 military personnel Canada has already committed to NATO efforts to contain Russia in the years after its invasion and annexation of Ukraine’s Crimean Peninsula in 2014. This includes 540 soldiers in the Canadian-led battle group in Latvia, as well as staffing for a frigate. Earlier this week, Canada announced it was also deploying 120 gunners as part of an artillery battery, as well as a second frigate and a surveillance aircraft.

“We cannot allow Putin to redraw maps and to rewrite history to suit his own purposes. If we must, we will stand up against these efforts to sow discord, deceit and violence,” Ms. Anand said.

Separately, Canada is being urged to expel Russia’s ambassador, Oleg Stepanov, in the wake of his country’s unprovoked attack on Ukraine.

“The Russian ambassador should be sent home. He represents a terrorist, criminal regime,” said Orest Zakydalsky, a senior official with the Ukrainian Canadian Congress (UCC), which represents people of Ukrainian heritage in Canada.

Marcus Kolga, president of the Central and Eastern European Council in Canada and a senior fellow at the Macdonald-Laurier Institute think tank, agreed, saying that “expelling the ambassador would send a strong message that Canada will not tolerate his government’s neo-imperialist aggression against a peaceful, democratic and sovereign nation.”

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Former federal Industry Minister James Moore also called for Mr. Stepanov to be expelled, urging parliamentarians to lead the way by tabling a motion in the House of Commons to this effect. The Canadian government does not require parliamentary consent to oust foreign envoys.

Asked for comment on the notion, Russia’s embassy in Canada said in a statement: “It’s a pluralistic world. There are many opinions out there.”

Neither the Conservatives nor the NDP called for Mr. Stepanov’s expulsion Thursday.

The UCC is also urging Ottawa to work with allies to impose more drastic sanctions on Moscow, including cutting off Russia from the SWIFT payments system, which supports most international money and security transfers.

“Russia has declared war on Ukraine. Russia seeks to destroy Ukraine and the Ukrainian people,” said Ihor Michalchyshyn, the UCC’S CEO and executive director.

Interim Conservative Leader Candice Bergen said her party “stands in solidarity” with Ukraine and its people.

“Putin’s contemptible aggression and invasion of Ukraine is unacceptable. His attack on the Ukrainian people and their democratically elected government is despicable,” she said.

NDP Leader Jagmeet Singh urged Canada to grant Ukrainians visa-free access so they can flee to safe havens. Canadians can visit Ukraine for up to 90 days without a visa, but Ukrainians still require one to travel to Canada.

Canada has granted citizens of more than 60 countries and jurisdictions visa-free access.

Deputy Prime Minister Chrystia Freeland said Russia’s unprovoked attack is a massive challenge to the international community.

“We cannot allow this to be the end of the post-World War Two rules-based order. It could be,” Ms. Freeland said.

“If Russia succeeds, then that order will be breached.”

Canada has evacuated all its diplomats from Ukraine, including Ambassador Larisa Galadza. The 10 to 14 staff were whisked across the border to neighbouring Poland in the early hours of the Russian military offensive, a Canadian government source said.

The Globe and Mail is not identifying the source because they were not authorized to speak publicly about the movement of diplomats.

It’s not known where the diplomats are in Poland, but Canada’s embassy in Warsaw is a six-hour drive from Lviv.

Canada suspended operations at its Kyiv embassy on Feb. 12. A small group of remaining diplomats then decamped to the western Ukrainian city of Lviv, where they continued operating and processing immigration and visa applications.

In recent weeks, the Canadian government has repeatedly warned its citizens to leave Ukraine.

With reports from Reuters

In response to the Feb. 24 attacks on Ukraine, Canada’s new sanctions target a number of individuals and entities, including Russian elites and members of the Russian Security Council. In addition, all export permits to Russia have been cancelled or denied. This amounts to hundreds of permits worth more than $7-million, says Foreign Affairs Minister Melanie Joly.

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