Ukraine's fight for 'the future of us all,' Trudeau says on surprise trip to Kyiv
Published Saturday, June 10, 2023 8:20AM EDT Last Updated Sunday, June 11, 2023 7:20AM EDT
KYIV, UKRAINE -- Prime Minister Justin Trudeau accused Moscow of a "new colonial approach" in Ukraine during a surprise visit to Kyiv on Saturday, where he told that country's parliament they are fighting for "the future of us all."
"You are the tip of the spear that is determining the future of the 21st century," Trudeau said during a 25-minute speech before a special session of the national legislature, known as the Verkhovna Rada.
Canada will spend another $500 million to help Ukraine's military fight Russia's invasion, pledging more weapons and fighter-pilot training.
Trudeau also said he believes Russia is behind the collapse of a dam that has drastically worsened a humanitarian crisis in southern Ukraine.
He told lawmakers that Canada will support their Ukraine's bid for membership in the NATO military alliance.
"We want peace on Ukrainian terms," he said. "Russia must completely and unconditionally withdraw all its military forces from Ukraine."
Trudeau received several standing ovations in his speech, and a warm embrace from Ukraine's President Volodymyr Zelenskyy. Two legislators were holding Canadian flags.
"Canada will continue to stand with Ukraine with whatever it takes, as long as it takes," Trudeau said earlier Saturday at a press conference while standing beside Zelenskyy.
"You're fighting for your country and for values like democracy, freedom, respect, and dignity. And in fighting for Ukraine, you're also fighting for the future of us all," Trudeau told Zelenskyy.
The visit, which was at the invitation of Ukraine, comes amid signs that a long-awaited spring counteroffensive against Russia could be underway.
It is also happening during wildfires across Canada, with smoke reducing air quality, and after Friday's resignation of the special rapporteur Trudeau had assigned to probe foreign interference.
"Canada will be part of the multinational efforts to train fighter pilots and to help maintain Ukraine's fighter-jet program, leveraging Canadian expertise in these areas," Trudeau said during the news conference.
He added Canada will join a team of countries helping to maintain tanks, while providing additional missiles and rounds of ammunition.
That includes 288 more AIM-7 missiles for warding off Russian airstrikes, and reallocating existing funds for 10,000 rounds of 105-millimetre ammunition, Trudeau said.
The prime minister also announced $10 million in new funding to support those coping with a worsening humanitarian situation in southern Ukraine after the collapse of a hydroelectric dam this week, along with $37.5 million in aid previously earmarked for the country.
The Nova Kakhovka hydroelectric dam on the Dnieper River has flooded a large part of the front line in southern Ukraine, an area that was already undergoing shelling.
It remains unclear how the dam collapse happened. Kyiv has accused Russia of blowing up the dam and its hydropower plant, which Russian forces controlled. Moscow said Ukraine did it.
When pressed by reporters, Trudeau put direct responsibility on Russia for the dam's collapse, saying investigations will reveal how Moscow was responsible.
"I have no doubt in my mind that Russia is responsible for the collapse of that dam. (As for) the mechanisms they used, I'm going to trust the experts that are still looking into it," he said.
"My trip today wasn't to inspect the Kakhovka dam; my trip is here to demonstrate my support for Ukraine."
Trudeau also announced more sanctions on 24 individuals and 17 entities for their alleged responsibility in the theft of cultural artifacts and damaging heritage sites in Ukraine, including five museums.
He also said the federal government has seized a massive Russian-registered Antonov 124 cargo plane that Canada grounded after it landed at Toronto Pearson International Airport in February 2022.
The prime minister said Canada will try to forfeit the plane to Ukraine, so it can't be used to support Russia's war effort. Ottawa has legislation to forfeit assets of people sanctioned by Canada, but as of a month ago it had not filed any court application despite promising last December to seize assets held by oligarch Roman Abramovich.
Trudeau and Zelenskyy also issued a joint declaration with a dozen points that largely reiterated Canada's actions for Ukraine. It mentioned "the need to strengthen efforts to ensure the effective implementation of sanctions and to prevent and counter circumvention in and by third countries."
Deputy Prime Minister Chrystia Freeland joined Trudeau on the trip, which began with the laying of a wreath at the Wall of Remembrance at St. Michael's Golden-Domed Monastery.
Freeland also placed some flowers at the wall, which features photos of Ukrainians who have died while defending their homeland since Russia's initial invasion in 2014. Both met Ukrainian soldiers there for the event.
On his way to the wall, Trudeau at one point crouched down low to look inside one of the frames of burnt-out Russian tanks and military vehicles that fill a public square. Not long before Trudeau and Freeland arrived, there was sombre music and an honour guard for a casket carried into the cathedral for a funeral.
Trudeau also visited a rehabilitation centre for war veterans that focuses on both mental and physical recovery. He was joined by Olena Zelenska, the first lady of Ukraine. One of the patients gave the prime minister a Ukrainian flag as he was leaving the facility.
Some media outlets, including The Canadian Press, were made aware of the trip ahead of time on the condition that it not be reported until it was made public, for security reasons.
This is the second time that Trudeau has made an unannounced visit to the embattled country since Russia began its large-scale invasion of Ukraine in February 2022.
Trudeau last travelled to Ukraine just over a year ago, where he reopened the Canadian Embassy in Kyiv and met Zelenskyy in person for the first time since the war began.
Trudeau met Zelenskyy in the building housing his office, and the pair then took part in an expanded bilateral meeting with some of both Zelenskyy and Trudeau's senior advisers, Freeland and Ukraine's trade minister, as well as both countries' ambassadors.
Zelenskyy thanked Canada for taking in thousands of Ukrainians fleeing the conflict. "We need more friends like Canada," he said.
The visit coincides with Ukraine's gradual ramping up of military activity. Moscow has claimed that Ukraine's long-promised spring counteroffensive is already happening, while Ukraine's top military brass confirmed Saturday that "heavy battles" were underway and that Russia was launching air and artillery strikes in Ukraine's southern Kherson and Zaporizhzhia regions.
On Friday, Russian President Vladimir Putin said Moscow will deploy some of its tactical nuclear weapons to Belarus next month, a move that the Belarusian opposition described as an attempt to blackmail the West ahead of a July meeting of the NATO military alliance.
Ottawa has contributed more than $8 billion to efforts related to the war in Ukraine since last year. That has included launching a special immigration program to allow Ukrainians to come to Canada quickly with a temporary work and study permit, instead of going through the usual refugee system.
The money includes $1 billion in military support, including the donation of eight Leopard 2 main battle tanks to Ukraine and training for its medics and soldiers in third countries like Latvia.
Trudeau said the fight in Ukraine is a matter of shoring up the democratic model that is under attack in other countries too.
"We see more and more emerging economies understanding that the new, colonial approach of autocracies like Russia and other countries is not the path to go down."
Trudeau was originally expected to appear at the parliamentary press gallery dinner Saturday night at the Museum of History in Gatineau, Que., a gathering of political journalists where federal party leaders are invited to deliver humorous speeches.
Instead, he appeared in a video alongside Zelenskyy that was recorded during his visit to Kyiv, where they thanked the media for telling the truth and defending freedom and democracy.
This report by The Canadian Press was first published June 10, 2023.
With files from The Associated Press