Prime Minister Justin Trudeau is on his way to Rwanda for the first leg of a 10-day trip to hold talks with other world leaders, as the war in Ukraine is expected to feature prominently in almost all of his discussions.
Trudeau is expected to arrive in Kigali, the capital, on Wednesday evening, where he will meet with heads of government from the other 53 Commonwealth countries for the first time since 2018.
The initial meeting, scheduled for 2020, was like so many others pushed back by the COVID-19 pandemic which remains an important backdrop for the talks.
He will then depart for Schloss Elmau, a resort town in Germany’s Bavarian Alps, for the G7 leaders’ summit before heading to a NATO meeting in Madrid. He will also meet Pedro Sánchez, the Spanish Prime Minister.
The consequences of Russia’s full-scale invasion of Ukraine, which began on February 24, have been felt around the world, especially in some of the smaller countries whose leaders will meet in Kigali.
The conflict has triggered a huge refugee crisis. It has also limited other countries’ access to Ukrainian wheat, often referred to as Europe’s breadbasket because of its large food production.
African countries, 19 of which are members of the Commonwealth, have therefore faced particularly serious food insecurity. The United Nations World Food Program has warned that millions of people in developing countries and conflict zones are at risk of starvation.
Before the war, Russia and Ukraine produced about 30% of the cereals exported in the world. The closure of key Black Sea ports has made it difficult to ship these goods to countries that need them.
Canada will work in several ways to ease the food crisis triggered by the war, government officials said who provided media with a pre-trip briefing on the condition that they not be identified.
Canada has already provided humanitarian support to Ukraine and elsewhere, officials said, and can draw on Canadian farmers’ expertise in storing and shipping crops in difficult situations to help grain Ukrainian to reach those in need.
They also noted that Canada grows a significant amount of grain.
Trudeau spoke about potential measures in a phone call last week with Rwandan President Paul Kagame, who will host the Commonwealth Heads of Government Meeting.
Canada will also rally support for Ukraine among Commonwealth members and try to convince any leaders who may be reluctant to condemn Russia.
When the United Nations voted to suspend Russia from the Human Rights Council in April, 58 countries abstained in the vote. Of these, 29 were Commonwealth countries.
Still, the Ukrainian Canadian Congress has said it expects Trudeau to pursue other leads when he is in Germany and Spain.
Congress Speaker Ihor Michalchyshyn said he spoke to Ukrainian defense officials on a recent trip to Kyiv, who highlighted the dire situation they face with dwindling military equipment.
“They don’t have enough weapons. They actually said they were going to run out of ammunition in the weeks and months to come,” Michalchyshyn said.
“If there’s nothing substantive announced and operationalized there, the rhetoric is empty.”
Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskyy is expected to address the G7 and NATO summits, where the conversation will largely focus on economic and military support for the beleaguered country.
Last week in Brussels, Defense Minister Anita Annand, who will join Trudeau at the NATO summit, announced that Canada would deliver 10 replacement artillery guns, worth $9 million, to support the already supplied M777 howitzer artillery guns.
Several world leaders have met with Zelenskyy ahead of the series of summits, including British Prime Minister Boris Johnson, who paid a surprise visit to Kyiv last week.
Johnson promised more British military training for Ukrainian troops, which Michalchyshyn said Canada could do more too.
Trudeau made his own unannounced trip to Ukraine last month.
As of the end of January, 33,346 candidates for the Ukrainian Security Forces had taken part in Canada’s training program, called Operation Unifier, since September 2015.
“Operation Unifier has been one of Canada’s most significant defense contributions to Ukraine in recent years,” said Michalchyshyn. “Canada should, at this point, follow the example and work in the areas where we are strongest.”
Latvian Prime Minister Krisjanis Karins pressed Trudeau during his visit to Canada last month for a more permanent military presence in the Baltics to counter any Russian perception of NATO’s weakness in the region.
Canada currently has close to 700 soldiers leading a NATO battle group in Latvia, one of many in the region. During a joint press conference with Karins in Ottawa, Trudeau announced that a general and six staff officers from the Canadian Armed Forces would be deployed to NATO headquarters in Adazi, near Riga, the capital. Latvian, but postponed any major decision to the NATO talks.
The serious conflict between Ukraine and Russia has attracted more countries to the upcoming NATO meeting in Madrid, including Japanese Prime Minister Fumio Kishida. He is the first Japanese leader to join a summit meeting of the North Atlantic military alliance.
Sweden and Finland, which have applied to join NATO, are sending delegations. South Korea‘s new president Yoon Suk-yeol has also signaled his intention to attend.
Trudeau is expected to return to Ottawa on June 30, in time for Canada Day celebrations.
—Laura Osman, The Canadian Press
Federal PoliticsJustin TrudeauRussiaUkraine