As negotiations with Russia stall, the NATO chief warns of a new war in Europe

The threat of a new war in Europe is very real, said NATO Secretary General Jens Stoltenberg today after talks with Russia at the military alliance’s headquarters in Brussels.

Stoltenberg’s warning was given as the Trudeau government faces increasing political pressure from the vociferous Ukrainian diaspora community in Canada to do more to help deter an invasion by Russian troops.

The meeting of the NATO-Russia Council ended without a firm commitment to more dialogue on Moscow’s demands. Russia insists that Ukraine be denied NATO membership and that the deployment of Alliance troops and equipment in Eastern Europe be rolled back to 1997 levels.

These claims have been completely rejected by the alliance. Wednesday’s four-hour meeting between NATO ambassadors and a Russian delegation was a “crucial moment for European security,” Stoltenberg said.

NATO was ready to negotiate with Russia on military exercises, arms control and missile launches, he said – but it will not allow Moscow to decide which countries can join the alliance.

“There is a real risk of new armed conflicts in Europe,” Stoltenberg said at a post-meeting meeting.

“There are significant differences between NATO allies and Russia. Our differences will not be easy to bridge, but it is a positive sign that all NATO allies and Russia sat on the same board and engaged on key issues.”

NATO Secretary General Jens Stoltenberg, center, and Russian Deputy Foreign Minister Alexander Grushko, fourth right, arrive at the NATO-Russia Council at NATO Headquarters in Brussels on Wednesday, 12 January 2022. (Olivier Hoslet / Associated Press)

Moscow has repeatedly denied plans to invade Ukraine – but on Tuesday more than 3,000 Russian troops conducted a live-fire exercise near the border. Russian President Vladimir Putin has insisted that his country needs written security guarantees that no further NATO enlargement will take place.

Stoltenberg said that any use of force against Ukraine by the Russians “would be a serious strategic mistake” for which Russia would pay a high price.

His comments were reiterated by Prime Minister Justin Trudeau today, who said he condemned “in no uncertain terms” the threat of Russian aggression during a phone call the day before with Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky.

‘Significant consequences’ for Russia

“We are all extremely concerned about this and are united as allies around the world in calling on Russia to de-escalate and [have] “indicated that there will be significant consequences in terms of sanctions if Russia takes further aggressive action,” Trudeau said.

He also said Canada would “continue to be there,” citing the military training mission in Ukraine and the deployment of Canadian troops as part of a NATO-led combat group in Latvia.

Prime Minister Justin Trudeau shakes hands with Canadian troops after giving a speech at Adazi Military Base in Kadaga, Latvia, on July 10, 2018. (Sean Kilpatrick / The Canadian Press)

Ukrainian-Canadians, concerned about the prospect of war, have called on the Liberal government to do more to help Ukraine through diplomacy and by strengthening its defenses.

Last month, the Ukrainian Canadian Congress (UCC) made a series of policy recommendations to Foreign Minister Mélanie Joly. At the top of the list was a proposal to send more defensive weapons to Ukraine, including anti-tank, anti-artillery, naval and air defense systems.

Joly has not ruled out increased military support for Ukraine – an option that the federal government has been reviewing for months.

Allies cut off shipments of equipment to Ukraine

After the dissolution of the Soviet Union, Ukraine was left with a large military-industrial complex capable of producing everything from tanks and armored vehicles to aircraft and ballistic missiles. But many of the sophisticated modern systems used by NATO allies – such as the Javelin anti-tank missile – are not in their inventory.

When Trudeau met with Zelensky in the summer of 2019, the Ukrainian president expressed interest in acquiring Canadian armored vehicles, which have an advanced design and are built to withstand powerful improvised explosives.

SE | Kyiv officials inspect hundreds of Cold War bomb shelters

Inside a shelter, Ukraine is preparing in case of a Russian attack

Kyiv officials inspect hundreds of shelters from the Cold War era if the Russian military invades Ukraine. 1:40

With high tensions over Ukraine, some of Canada’s allies have blocked shipments of defense equipment to avoid further aggravating Russia. The UCC pointed to Germany’s refusal to allow “the purchase of anti-drone and anti-sniper systems through the NATO Support and Procurement Agency.”

The UCC also wants to see Canada restore Ukraine’s access to advanced satellite data – something the former Conservative government provided for a limited period after Russia’s annexation of Crimea.

It also called for more sanctions against Russia, noting that in the years since Canada last imposed sanctions in March 2019, the US and EU have moved to punish a Russian private security firm, the Wagner group.

The EU accused the Wagner Group of human rights abuses in Ukraine and a wide range of other countries, including torture and extrajudicial executions.

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