Prime Minister Justin Trudeau opened the door to increasing his government’s defence spending, which trails allies and sits below the NATO target, as he acknowledged the “context is changing rapidly around the world.”
Mr. Trudeau also said the government would sanction 10 more senior Russian officials and oligarchs, all of whom are on jailed Russian opposition leader Alexei Navalny’s priority list and three of whom are on his shortlist.
The Prime Minister was in London Monday for the start of a five-day trip through Europe, where he’s meeting with leaders from across the continent to chart the next steps in the West’s response to Russia’s war in Ukraine. In Britain, he met with Prime Minister Boris Johnson and Dutch Prime Minister Mark Rutte.
At a press conference, Mr. Rutte acknowledged Western sanctions so far have not led to the “desired effect” that Russia stop its invasion.
Mr. Trudeau vowed to “push back hard against Russia,” but one defence expert said Canada’s low defence spending and log-jammed procurement process leave it limited in what it can offer besieged Ukraine. Mr. Trudeau was pressed on the low spending at a press conference alongside Mr. Johnson and Mr. Rutte and signalled a cash injection could come.
“We have a budget coming up and we are considering the investments that we need to make,” Mr. Trudeau said.
Also on Monday, the federal government announced that Canada is sending six CF-18 fighter jets to Romania in July to resume Ottawa’s contribution to NATO air patrols on the military alliance’s eastern flank.
On top of the pressure to do more from Ukraine President Volodymyr Zelensky, Western leaders are also under pressure domestically. In London over the weekend, hundreds protested against the war and called on Mr. Johnson to do more.
“I’m sure in our victory,” said Marina Astapenko, “but we ask the whole world to help us, to arm us, and to give us resources.”
The North Atlantic Treaty Organization has a defence spending target of 2 per cent of GDP for its 30 member countries. Canada lags the vast majority, spending just 1.39 per cent as of 2021, according to NATO estimates. Britain spent an estimated 2.29 per cent.
Mr. Johnson said he wouldn’t comment on Canada’s military budget but noted that Britain’s is much higher and said “we need a renewed focus on our collective security.”
“That is kind of increasingly understood by everyone,” he said.
Mr. Trudeau noted that Canada already has a plan to increase defence spending by 70 per cent, but Dave Perry, the president of the Canadian Global Affairs Institute, said so far it’s only gone up by about 20 per cent, after accounting for inflation.
The result is other allies have sent Ukraine “much more sophisticated pieces” of military equipment, Mr. Perry said, adding Canada also lags so badly because it has underspent its military budget by billions. The result is “your options when you face a massive crisis, like the one we’re looking at right now in Ukraine, are drastically limited.”
In a statement, the Conservatives said Canada should work to achieve “at least” NATO’s 2-per-cent target and that Canada should send field hospitals and surplus army vehicles to Ukraine.
As it tries to continue to increase the pressure on the Kremlin through sanctions, Mr. Trudeau said the latest additions to the sanctions list are former and current senior government officials, oligarchs and supporters of Russian leadership.
He said the government is “punishing Putin and his enablers where it hurts most.”
Three of the people now sanctioned are numbers four, five and seven on Mr. Navalny’s “priority shortlist” for the measures: Health Minister Mikhail Murashko, Agriculture Minister Dmitry Patrushev and state-media personality Vladimir Solovyov. Their assets are frozen and Canadians are banned from doing business with them.
A letter from the Anti-Corruption Foundation, which released Mr. Navalny’s recommendations for sanctions, said “each of these individuals actively participates in the oppression and corruption of Putin’s regime.”
Canada has now sanctioned hundreds of Russians connected to Mr. Putin’s regime, but hasn’t yet touched billionaire Roman Abramovich, who is listed as Mr. Navalny’s No. 1 priority. Mr. Abramovich is a significant shareholder in steel maker Evraz PLC, which through a subsidiary has steel-production facilities in Canada.
In Ottawa, NDP Leader Jagmeet Singh urged Mr. Trudeau to do more to settle Ukrainian refugees in Canada and hold a meeting to develop a plan with provincial and municipal counterparts.
With reports from Steven Chase and Ian Bailey in Ottawa
For subscribers: Get exclusive political news and analysis by signing up for the Politics Briefing.