In Kyiv, Trudeau signs new Ukraine security pact, marking two years since invasion

With Ukraine short of cash and weapons from allies, Ottawa is offering Kyiv a financial lifeline. Caryn Ceolin with the new security pact Justin Trudeau has signed with the Ukrainian president and what it means for the country’s war effort.

By The Canadian Press

Prime Minister Justin Trudeau signed a new security agreement with Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskyy on Saturday as world leaders gathered to mark the second anniversary of Russia’s 2022 invasion.

The agreement, which Trudeau announced during a surprise visit to Kyiv, is aimed at fortifying both the Ukrainian military and the country’s struggling economy.

It includes some $320 million in new military spending, which is due by the end of the year, and $2.4 billion in loans for Ukraine, to be administered through the International Monetary Fund.

“War isn’t just experienced on the battlefield, it’s lived every day, by everyday people,” Trudeau said of the loans at a news conference in the Ukrainian president’s official residence.

“This money allows roads to be repaired after a bombing. It pays nurses and doctors who keep people healthy, and it supports Ukrainians as they fight back against Russia.”

Trudeau also announced $75 million to help finance the country’s demining efforts and intelligence gathering and also promised $15 million to help complete the Ukrainian National Museum of the Holodomor-Genocide in Kyiv.

Prime Minister Justin Trudeau watches as Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskyy is saluted by soldiers during a ceremony at Hostomel Airport in Kyiv on Saturday, February 24, 2024.  THE CANADIAN PRESS/Nathan Denette

Earlier Trudeau was joined Saturday by European Commission President Ursula von der Leyen, Italian Premier Giorgia Meloni, and Belgian Prime Minister Alexander De Croo at Hostomel airport in a show of global solidarity. Absent countries like the United States, the United Kingdom, France and Poland signalled their allegiance through public statements on social media.

Behind them, the scorched husks of destroyed aircraft and the blackened walls of the airport just outside the capital served as a stark backdrop, a bitter reminder of the invasion’s earliest days.

“Putin was sure he could easily take strategic targets like this airport. Russian forces tried to make quick work of Hostomel airport — and with it, Kyiv,” Trudeau said in prepared remarks.

“Well, we are standing here today because he was wrong.”

Russian President Vladimir Putin launched his long-feared invasion on Feb. 24, 2022. His paratroopers raided the airport just hours after the start of what he called a “special military operation” in the country.

Two years later, the wreckage of that battle remained strewn behind the leaders as they took their turns at the podium — lingering evidence of both an early triumph as well as the grinding, bloody conflict that continues to rage.

“Putin cannot win,” Trudeau said in his speech. “Ukraine will see victory, just like what happened on this ground two years ago.”

Federal Conservative Party leader Pierre Poilievre has vowed that “Canada will always stand with Ukraine,” denouncing the “tyranny” of Russian President Vladimir Putin and applauding Ukraine’s “unshakeable resolve and determination” in a social media post Saturday.

Trudeau has accused Poilievre of abandoning Ukraine because of the Conservatives’ opposition to the Canada-Ukraine trade agreement.

Tories have said that they support Ukraine but they oppose the legislation because the updated deal says both countries aim to promote carbon pricing.

Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskyy gave a rousing speech in Ukrainian, praising the bravery and sacrifice of Ukrainian troops defending their country, and thanked his western allies.

“Throughout all of this war you have been with us, with Ukrainians,” Zelesnkyy told the leaders at Hostomel.

“It is extremely important to know that Ukraine can rely on such support as yours.”

Former British prime minister Boris Johnson was also on hand for the anniversary, as well as Defence Minister Bill Blair and Deputy Prime Minister Chrystia Freeland.

As he has done from the outset, Trudeau again vowed to ensure Canada stands with Ukraine for as long as it takes to secure victory.

But the federal government has yet to deliver all military aid it has promised, prompting critics to accuse the prime minister of going back on his word.

Trudeau is expected to participate in several commemorations throughout the day, including a wreath-laying, before ending the day with a joint news conference.

“You are fighting for your sovereignty, for your territory, for your language, for your culture, for your democracy,” Trudeau said. “But also for our democracy.”

Despite similar sentiments from across the global coalition of support, European countries are struggling to find enough stocks to send to Kyiv, while $60-billion worth of U.S. help is stalled over political differences.

The delays have frustrated Zelenskyy, who fears — like others — that such holdups amid domestic political squabbles are playing right into the hands of an ever-patient Putin.

“I’m grateful for every support package that helps our soldiers to fight, that helps our state to change and to become stronger,” Zelenskyy said.

“Putin must be defeated, must lose in everything, like it was in Hostomel.”

Just last week, Russia took complete control of the city of Avdiivka, about 706 kilometres east of the capital, where troops had battled fiercely over the local chemical plant for weeks.

And a Russian drone attack late Friday struck a residential building in the southern city of Odesa, killing at least one person and injuring several others.

The presence of world leaders in Kyiv will be on display throughout the day Saturday to demonstrate a bulwark of international support and pay tribute to Ukraine’s continued resilience.

Zelenskyy himself warned allies just last week that an “artificial deficit” of arms risks giving Russia a dangerous advantage.

Meanwhile, Biden has been cajoling and criticizing Republicans in Congress to help pass legislation to keep the support flowing.

“The failure to support Ukraine at this critical moment will not be forgotten. Now is the time for us to stand strong with Ukraine and stand united with our allies and partners,” Biden said in a statement.

“Now is the time to prove that the United States stands up for freedom and bows down to no one.”

Biden has chided his political opponents, including former and would-be future president Donald Trump, for inflamed rhetoric around Ukraine and a lack of support that borders on what the current commander-in-chief calls “criminal neglect.”

Trudeau has reached for similar reprovals when it comes to Canada’s Opposition Conservatives and their recent decision to vote against a modernized free-trade deal with Ukraine.

But in contrast to the U.S., both parties have tried to position themselves domestically as the more committed ally: Canada is home to the world’s second-largest Ukrainian diaspora population, after Russia.

People attend a rally to demand the release of Ukrainian prisoners of war, who were taken captive in the Mariupol region of Ukraine by Russian forces, in Kyiv, Ukraine, Saturday, Feb. 24, 2024.  (AP Photo/Evgeniy Maloletka)

On Friday, Canada announced sanctions against 10 more Russian officials and businessmen and 153 entities, in co-ordination with the United States and the United Kingdom. The European Union also announced new sanctions ahead of the anniversary of the war.

The prime minister’s show of solidarity in Kyiv also provides an opportunity to help restore the relationship’s lustre after a gaffe during Zelenskyy’s visit to Ottawa last fall set off an international embarrassment.

With the Ukrainian president in the House of Commons, members of Parliament paid a war hero’s tribute to a Ukrainian-Canadian veteran who turned out to have fought for the Nazis in the Second World War.

The incident made headlines around the world, prompted a prime ministerial apology, cost former House Speaker Anthony Rota his job and provided ample fodder for Russia’s propaganda machine.

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