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Trudeau links Russian diplomats’ ouster with smear campaign aimed at Freeland

Prime Minister Justin Trudeau linked an online smear campaign against Foreign Affairs Minister Chrystia Freeland to the expulsion of four Russian diplomats on Wednesday when asked why those officials were recently kicked out of Canada.

Last week, Ms. Freeland announced four Russian diplomats were being sent home, and the March 26 statement said Canada had identified them as “intelligence officers or individuals who have used their diplomatic status to undermine Canada’s security or interfere in our democracy.”

Mr. Trudeau spoke to reporters after a meeting with North Atlantic Treaty Organization Secretary-General Jens Stoltenberg on Wednesday, and was asked specifically how these expelled Russians sought to undermine Canada.

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Prime Minister Justin Trudeau says Canada and its NATO allies responded “extremely strongly” to the alleged Russian attack in the U.K. Trudeau held a news conference with NATO’s secretary general in Ottawa on Wednesday. The Canadian Press

The Prime Minister cited efforts in March, 2017, by Russians to raise questions about Ms. Freeland’s maternal Ukrainian grandfather’s role as chief editor of a Nazi newspaper in occupied Poland that vilified Jews during the Second World War. Ms. Freeland’s family history has become a target for Russian forces seeking to discredit one of Canada’s highest-placed defenders of Ukraine.

“I think we can all remember the efforts by Russian propagandists to discredit our Minister of Foreign Affairs, through social media and sharing stories about her,” Mr. Trudeau told reporters on Wednesday.

“There are multiple ways in which Russia uses cyber, social media and propaganda to sway public opinion, to try and push a pro-Russia narrative.”

Last week, The Globe and Mail reported that three of the four Russian intelligence operatives expelled from Canada were conducting cyberactivities out of the Montreal consulate aimed at discrediting the World Anti-Doping Agency and spreading disinformation about Canada and its closest allies.

Mr. Stoltenberg, meanwhile, told reporters that Russia’s alleged poisoning of an ex-spy in Britain fits a pattern of “reckless behavior” by Moscow stretching back to the 2014 annexation of Crimea, but said the Western military alliance is nevertheless trying to avoid a new Cold War.

He visited Canada on Wednesday, where he met with Mr. Trudeau to plan for this July’s NATO summit in Belgium, as the alliance forges ahead with a major command-structure overhaul intended to make it more responsive to threats.

Mr. Stoltenberg said NATO is not trying to isolate Russia despite a broad backlash against Moscow in the wake of the ex-spy’s poisoning. Western countries expelled more than 150 Russian diplomats in the wake of the nerve-agent attack on double agent Sergei Skripal and his adult daughter in the English city of Salisbury.

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“We don’t want a new Cold War. We don’t want a new arms race, so we are focused on how we can respond in a firm, strong, predictable, but also measured and defensive way,” Mr. Stoltenberg told reporters after the meeting.

“Russia is there to stay. Russia is our neighbor. So we will continue to strive for a more productive relationship.”

The head of Britain’s military research centre said earlier this week that it was unable yet to say whether the military-grade nerve agent that poisoned Mr. Skripal last month had been produced in Russia.

Mr. Stoltenberg, in an interview with The Globe, said he has no reason to doubt the findings and assessments of the British government, however, which has placed the blame for the nerve agent’s use on Moscow.

“We have to understand the attacks in Salisbury take place against the background of a pattern of reckless behavior from the Russian side over a long period. They have declared before they will go after defectors,” he said. “We have seen the illegal annexation of Crimea. We have seen [support for militants in] eastern Ukraine. We have seen their support of the Assad regime. We have seen failed coup attempts in Montenegro. There are too many examples where Russia is responsible for reckless behavior and that is the reason why allies are responding in the way they are responding.”

Mr. Stoltenberg said Russia is trying to re-establish its own “spheres of influence” inEastern Europe.

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“We need to prevent incidents and accidents, and if they happen, make sure they don’t spiral out of control.”

The NATO Secretary-General said he’s asked Canada to contribute to a planned NATO-run training mission in Iraq. Canada is currently offering military advice to Kurdish fighters in the country.

“Exactly how many trainers, it’s too early to say because we are now in the process of planning the mission.”

Mr. Stoltenberg said the NATO plan is currently focused on Iraqi government troops and the alliance hasn’t decided whether this would be expanded to cover Kurdish troops from the semi-autonomous Kurdish region in northern Iraq.

With reports from Reuters

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