Justin Trudeau makes a surprise trip to Ukraine

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Justin Trudeau made a surprise one-day trip to Kyiv to reopen the Canadian embassy in person the same day he and other G7 leaders pledged to tighten tougher sanctions on Russia for its attacks on the ‘Ukraine.

It was a day of symbolism and anticipation for Western countries’ support for Ukraine, as Trudeau spent the day with Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskyy, the embassies of Canada and the United States reopened for the first time since the start of the war and US First Lady Jill Biden visited Ukrainian First Lady Olena Zelenska, all on the anniversary of the end of World War II in Europe.

During his visit, Trudeau spoke about Canada’s commitments to support Ukraine and the close ties between the two nations.

“This flag came down on February 13 and we are really happy to raise it again at the Canadian Embassy,” said Trudeau, standing with Ambassador Larisa Galadza and Deputy Prime Minister Chrystia Freeland outside the embassy in kyiv in a video shared by World News. “I think it speaks to the strength and resilience of the Ukrainian people. They were able to protect their city.

“To see the Canadian flag flying once again in the streets of Kyiv is another testament to the incredible strength and solidarity of Canadians and Ukrainians.

Under tight security, the Prime Minister flew on Saturday night to spend Sunday with Zelenskyy, a visit intended to underscore Canada’s support for Ukraine and signal to the world that Kyiv, at least, is not in the hands of the Russians.

Trudeau traveled to Ukraine with Freeland and Foreign Affairs Minister Mélanie Joly. The prime minister reportedly spent the day with Zelenskyy, and the two practically attended a G7 meeting later that day.

Allen Sens, professor of international relations at UBC, said the visit had significant symbolic weight – but he hoped the meetings between Trudeau, Zelenskyy and cabinet ministers went beyond the symbolic.

Four things could have been on the agenda for the Trudeau-Zelenskyy talks, Sens said: additional aid for military equipment, financial assistance for Ukraine’s eventual reconstruction, what negotiations might look like for the end of the war and whether Russian leader Vladimir Putin might try to declare Russian republics on Ukrainian territory as early as Monday.

“There’s a lot to talk about,” Sens said. “You could talk without visiting, but going for a visit has these additional symbolic elements.”

Some of what was discussed was revealed by the Prime Minister’s Office on Sunday afternoon. A press release described discussions on “the need for additional international support – including humanitarian, financial and military assistance” as well as sanctions against Russia.

Trudeau also announced that Canada would temporarily remove trade tariffs on products from Ukraine and provide an additional $50 million in military equipment assistance, $25 million in humanitarian assistance and $10 million to support the human rights groups working in the country.

The G7 meeting, which included leaders from the UK, US, Canada, Japan, Germany, France and Italy, reaffirmed their collective commitment to support Ukraine on Sunday. in its defense against Russian aggression.

The leaders issued a statement pledging even tougher sanctions against Moscow, including a commitment to “gradually eliminate our dependence on Russian energy, including by removing or banning the import of Russian oil”, as well as the maintenance of sanctions against Russian banks.

“Today we, the G7, reassured President Zelenskyy of our continued willingness to make new commitments to help Ukraine secure its free and democratic future, so that Ukraine can defend itself now and deter future acts of aggression,” read part of the statement. . “To this end, we will continue our ongoing military and defense assistance to the Armed Forces of Ukraine, continue to support Ukraine in defending its networks against cyber incidents and expand our cooperation, including on information security. “, indicates the press release.

Sens said that while it is clear from the G7 statement that member countries are broadly in agreement on support for Ukraine, he thinks the issue of the Russian oil ban is still a bit of a sticking point. friction – that they didn’t agree on wording to “eliminate” or “prohibit.”

“Where it comes from is that some countries are not willing to go to an immediate ban,” Sens said. “It’s recognition that this is a corner issue, so they masked this crack using this language.”

Florian Gassner, a professor in the department of Central, Eastern and Northern European Studies at the University of British Columbia, said Trudeau’s trip could be seen as particularly important because of the risk associated with traveling alongside of his deputy – Freeland.

“It’s usually something you don’t do to have the prime minister and his deputy in a war zone at the same time,” he said. “You would never have Barack Obama and Joe Biden, or Joe Biden and Kamala Harris right now in a war zone…that would violate all security protocols.”

But, Gassner said, there’s no doubt that Freeland was heavily involved in “articulating the idea” of going to Ukraine, because of her own status as a member of the Canadian Ukrainian community and her long history in the country dating back to her. university education.

Russia sanctioned Freeland, barring her from entering the country, in 2014 after she spoke out against the occupation of Crimea.

“His presence is therefore an important signal for Canadians and Ukrainians,” Gassner said. “But it’s also, I guess, a very strong signal to Russia that they’re there.”

Trudeau also visited the war-torn suburb of Irpin. Irpin Mayor Oleksandr Markushyn posted about the visit by Canadian officials on his Telegram channel on Sunday, writing in Ukrainian that Trudeau had come to see “with his own eyes the horror” of the Russian occupation.

“The Prime Minister is in Ukraine to meet with President Zelenskyy and reaffirm Canada’s unwavering support for the Ukrainian people,” said a statement from the Prime Minister’s Office sent Sunday morning.

Gassner said that since Trudeau is the second G7 leader to enter Ukrainian soil during the war, the show of solidarity – and the reopening of the Canadian embassy – is likely to give a “morale boost” to Ukrainians who are still fighting to defend their country against Russian attacks.

He added that Trudeau would likely have come under pressure from Canadians had he waited much longer to plan such a trip.

“I think in the long run he couldn’t have afforded not to visit just because of the size and presence of the Ukrainian Canadian community,” he said.

Ukrainian Prime Minister Denys Shmyhal publicly lobbied for Trudeau and his ministers to come to Ukraine, and he stressed that Kyiv was safe enough to welcome other leaders. British Prime Minister Boris Johnson, UN Secretary General Antonio Guterres and several European leaders recently visited Kyiv, accompanied by other dignitaries.

US House Speaker Nancy Pelosi also visited, but President Joe Biden did not.

The reopening of the two embassies on Sunday seemed to symbolize an understanding by Canada and the United States of the importance of May 8, the anniversary of the defeat of the Nazis in Europe, in Ukrainian consciousness.

Zelenskyy acknowledged the significance of the day in his Saturday night speech, drawing comparisons between the need to defeat Russia and the need to reject Nazism in World War II.

Canada has also been discussing with Ukrainian officials for several weeks how to safely reopen its embassy there, Freeland – who speaks frequently to Shmyhal – said in April it was an important move to make.

About 1.4 million people of Ukrainian descent live in Canada, and having an official Canadian presence in Kyiv would not only signify Canadian support, but would be a way to strengthen Canada’s efforts to help aid humanitarian aid and refugees fleeing the dangerous regions of Ukraine.

The invasion is now in its 10th week, and observers fear May 9 will bring renewed aggression from Russia. It’s the day Putin is due to speak at a Victory Day parade marking the anniversary of Nazi Germany’s surrender in 1945.

Trudeau and his cabinet have been keen to show Canada’s unequivocal support for Ukraine, sending billions of dollars in loans, aid and arms, especially in recent weeks. Canada has also been active in Poland, helping to deal with the flood of Ukrainian refugees pouring into that country and facilitating the arrival of thousands of them to Canada.

The visit comes as dozens of Ukrainians are believed to have died after a Russian bomb destroyed a school housing around 90 people in eastern Ukraine.

The governor of Luhansk province said on Sunday that 30 people had been rescued from the rubble of the Bilohorivka village school but the others probably did not survive.

Elsewhere, other explosions rocked the Black Sea port of Odessa.

Ukrainian soldiers making a last stand at a steelworks in the besieged city of Mariupol said they would not surrender after civilians were evacuated from the sprawling site.

With files from The Canadian Press

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