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NATO embarks on greatest overhaul since Cold War, but Canada’s role remains uncertain

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MADRID — Russian troops poured into Ukraine on the morning of Feb. 24, invading by land and sea as airstrikes rained down on cities, in an all-out attack unlike anything seen in Europe since the Second World War.

The months that followed have left thousands dead, millions more displaced, led to famine and fuel shortages and fundamentally changed the world order.

Now the North Atlantic Treaty Organization is prepared to embark on the greatest overhaul of the alliance’s deterrence capabilities since the Cold War at a leaders’ summit in Spain, but Canada’s role in the new defence strategy remains uncertain.

NATO leaders, including Prime Minister Justin Trudeau, have gathered in Madrid for the landmark summit to discuss how they will respond to Russia’s ongoing invasion of Ukraine.

“We meet in the midst of the most serious security crisis we have faced since the Second World War,” NATO Secretary-General Jens Stoltenberg said as he arrived at the summit Wednesday. “It will be a transformative summit because we will make historic decisions.”

Ukraine President Volodymyr Zelenskyy is expected to address the leaders at the outset of meeting.

Meanwhile Russia has launched fresh attacks on civilians in the country — most recently with a missile strike on a shopping mall in Kremenchuk in central Ukraine Monday that killed at least 18 people.

NATO has steadily stepped up its presence since the first inklings of a potential invasion in January, effectively flexing its muscle to deter Russia from picking a fight with an allied nation.

If Russia were to cross into NATO territory it would trigger an all-out international war between dozens of countries, as an attack on one allied nation is considered an attack on all 30.

Russian President Vladimir Putin offered Ukraine’s aspirations to join NATO as one of the justifications for the invasion.

At the G7 in the Bavarian Alps in Germany, Chancellor Olaf Sholz described the fine line leaders must walk.

“We are taking tough decisions,” Sholz said, speaking to media during a walk around the G7 summit site with Trudeau on Monday.

“We are also cautious that we will help Ukraine as much as is possible but that we also avoid that there will be a big conflict between Russia and NATO.”

NATO Secretary-General Jens Stoltenberg signalled more troops are now needed and a heightened state of readiness will be necessary to keep Russia at bay.

Canada’s foremost contribution to the front against Russia is in Latvia, a Baltic nation along Russia’s western border, where Canada has led a 2,000-strong battlegroup since 2017.

Similar units led by Germany, Britain and the United States lead are spread across the southern coast of the Baltic Sea.

Following Russia’s invasion of Ukraine, NATO members agreed to create four more battlegroups in Bulgaria, Hungary, Romania and Slovakia, effectively extending the alliance’s eastern front to the Black Sea.

Earlier this week, Stoltenberg said the number of troops in those battlegroups would double to between 3,000 and 5,000.

The alliance is also dramatically increasing the number of forces who would be ready to respond quickly in the event of a full-scale war from 40,000 to 300,000.

The question is whether Canada will contribute those troops and the funds needed to keep them poised for potential action.

“It sure seems like the alliance is looking to make some concrete announcements about increased actual capabilities, on higher readiness for the alliance, and I’m interested to see whether or not we have any more gas left in that particular tank,” said David Perry, defence and foreign policy analyst for the Canadian Global Affairs Institute.

Trudeau said that’s what he’ll be speaking about with other leaders.

“We, like others, are developing plans to be able to scale up rapidly,” Trudeau said at a press briefing at the conclusion of the G7 summit in Germany Tuesday.

In a one-on-one meeting with Trudeau before the NATO meeting Wednesday, Stoltenberg heaped praise on Canada for its contributions to the alliance.

“It’s great to see how really Canada is playing a key role in strengthening NATO’s deterrence and defence amidst the most serious security crisis we’ve faced since the Second World War in Europe,” he told Trudeau in a small meeting room in the lower level of the convention centre where the summit was held.

But Canada is already under-delivering on a promise to NATO to dedicate two per cent of its gross domestic product to military defence.

Members of the 30-member military alliance agreed to the target in 2014, and it’s expected to be front and centre when leaders convene Wednesday.

A report released by Stoltenberg estimates Canadian defence spending will instead decline as a share of GDP to 1.27 per cent this year, down from 1.32 per cent last year and 1.42 per cent in 2020.

The leaders should also discuss an exit plan for the war, said Robert Baines of the NATO Association of Canada.

“I think the NATO leaders have said, ‘Well, we’re with Ukraine for as long as Ukraine needs us.’ And then to try to actually square that circle and say, OK, so there’s no exit strategy. That’s always challenging,’” Baines said.

The summit will also welcome new potential partners in Europe and Asia. Delegations from Sweden and Finland, which have applied to join NATO, will be in attendance, and Japan Prime Minister Fumio Kishida and South Korean President Yoon Suk-yeol will be the first leaders of their respective countries to attend a NATO summit.

This report by The Canadian Press was first published June 29, 2022.

— With files from Lee Berthiaume in Ottawa

Laura Osman, The Canadian Press

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Canada donating four Leopard battle tanks to Ukraine

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Ottawa – Defence Minister Anita Anand says Canada will send four of its German-made Leopard 2 tanks to Ukraine “in the coming weeks.”

Anand announced the move this afternoon, making Canada the latest country to promise the heavy weapons to Ukraine.

Canada is also providing trainers, spare parts and ammunition, while Anand left open the possibility of sending more Leopards in the future.

Ukraine has implored Western allies to send such weapons for weeks as its forces struggle to make gains against Russia.

But Canada was unable to respond until Germany agreed on Wednesday that countries could re-export their Leopards.

The Leopards that Canada is donating are among the 112 currently owned by the Canadian Army, which includes 82 designed specifically for combat.

Retired military officers had warned that any donation would have an impact on the Army and will need to be replaced, given that the fleet is already stretched thin.

This report by The Canadian Press was first published Jan. 26, 2023.

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Pressure builds for Canada to send tanks to Ukraine after Germany gives OK

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By Lee Berthiaume in Ottawa

Pressure is building for Canada to send some of its Leopard 2 battle tanks to Ukraine after Germany decided to provide the heavy weapons and allow other countries to do the same.

German Chancellor Olaf Scholz announced his government’s decision on Wednesday following weeks of hesitation that created impatience among his country’s allies, saying Berlin will send 14 of its Leopard 2A6 tanks.

Scholz’s announcement came shortly before U.S. President Joe Biden revealed plans to send 31 M1 Abrams tanks to Ukraine, opening a potential floodgate following weeks of pleas by Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskyy.

The goal is for Germany and its allies to provide Ukraine with 88 of the German-made Leopards, which would make up two battalions, and work alongside the U.S.-made Abrams in launching counteroffensives against Russian forces.

Yet while Poland has already promised to send Leopards if Germany agreed, and other European nations such as Finland and Spain have indicated a willingness to do the same, Canada’s Prime Minister Justin Trudeau was more circumspect on Wednesday.

“Canada has stepped up significantly and without hesitation to support the Ukrainian people, and Ukraine itself,” he said at a news conference marking the end of a three-day cabinet retreat in Hamilton.

“We will continue to be there to give whatever support we can to Ukraine. I won’t be making an announcement today. But I can tell you we are looking very, very closely at what more we can do to support Ukraine.”

The Canadian Armed Forces has 112 Leopard 2s in its inventory in a number of different variations. Those include 82 designed for combat and 30 that are used for engineering purposes and recovering disabled vehicles.

Retired lieutenant-general and former Canadian Army commander Jean-Marc Lanthier said in an interview that any donation will almost certainly need to balance the needs and benefits to Ukraine against the potential impact on Canada’s military.

“Getting rid of any tanks — because we have so few, and so few that are actively working — would have an immediate impact on the level of readiness of the Army,” said Lanthier, who served as an armoured officer.

“Is that something that should stop us from sending tanks? I think we have a moral responsibility in terms of the immediacy of the requirements of the Ukrainian Armed Forces and the Ukrainian people. They are fighting a war. We are not.”

Canada bought its Leopards from Germany during the war in Afghanistan. They are notionally divided into squadrons of 19 tanks each, with two squadrons in Edmonton and a third at CFB Gagetown, N.B. Most of the rest are at the armoured training school in Gagetown.

“And normally you keep a bunch of them at a depot ready to be deployed, but that’s not something we’re doing necessarily because we don’t have the numbers,” said Lanthier.

Adding to the pressure is the fact only about half of Canada’s Leopards are operational on any given day due to maintenance and repair requirements for the surprisingly complex vehicles, he added.

Department of National Defence spokesman Andrew McKelvey would not comment Wednesday on what percentage of the military’s Leopard 2s are currently operational, and how many are out of service for maintenance and other reasons.

“Tank maintenance is similar to aircraft maintenance, and the status of the fleet at any given moment depends on a comprehensive maintenance, repair, and overhaul schedule, which is tied to specific requirements for training or operational employment,” he said.

“For operational security reasons we cannot specify how many Leopard 2s are being maintained at any given time or give indication of their maintenance schedule.”

The question facing the government will ultimately be whether the benefit of sending tanks to Ukraine outweighs the impact on the military, Lanthier said. If it does, another question will be whether those tanks would be replaced — and if so, how quickly.

“If we deem that we want to retain that capability that tanks give us in terms of a modern, battle-capable army, we need tanks,” he said. “If we accept that, then anything we give has to be replaced.”

This report by The Canadian Press was first published Jan. 25, 2023.

⁠ — With files from The Associated Press.

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