NATO reinforces its eastern flank as it prepares for the threat of Russian chemical attacks

NATO will deploy four more battlegroups to Eastern Europe amid growing concerns over the threat of Russia using chemical weapons in Ukraine, the military alliance’s secretary general said on Wednesday. western.

The additional troops will be sent to Slovakia, Hungary, Bulgaria and Romania, Jens Stoltenberg told a press conference in Brussels ahead of Thursday’s meeting of NATO leaders.

Combined with existing forces in the Baltics and Poland, NATO will soon have eight multinational battlegroups in the region – a front facing Russia stretching from the Baltic states to the Black Sea.

“President Putin’s invasion is brutal,” Stoltenberg said. “And the human suffering is horrific and painful to see. We are determined to do everything we can to support Ukraine.”

Faced with the threat of Russia using chemical, biological or even tactical nuclear weapons, NATO countries will start shipping protective equipment to the Ukrainian military, the secretary general added.

“First of all, any use of chemical weapons would totally change the nature of the conflict,” Stoltenberg said. “It would be a flagrant violation of international law and would have far-reaching consequences. And I think that’s the most important message to get across.”

Speaking on Wednesday after Stoltenberg’s remarks, top NATO commanders said they estimate between 7,000 and 15,000 Russian troops have been killed fighting in Ukraine in the month since the start of the war. invasion.

His remarks came as Prime Minister Justin Trudeau, delivering a speech in the European Parliament, warned that free nations cannot afford to take democracy for granted.

He said Western countries had been watching the storm building for years and now faced “a watershed moment”.

WATCH: Prime Minister Justin Trudeau addresses the European Parliament

Prime Minister Justin Trudeau addresses the European Parliament

Prime Minister Justin Trudeau speaks to members of the European Parliament in Brussels during his trip to a NATO summit in Belgium. 2:47

Speaking in front of half-empty pews and crowded public galleries, Trudeau received a sustained ovation when he said the European Union and NATO were more united than ever in the face of Russian President Vladimir Putin’s war. He said the world “cannot let Ukraine down”.

“Putin’s attack on Ukraine is an attack on the values ​​that form the pillars of all democracies,” Trudeau said.

“We have a responsibility to show people why these values ​​are so important – not just for Ukrainians but for all of us. We need to recommit ourselves to the work of strengthening our democracies and demonstrate the principled leadership that people are looking for.”

Trudeau is in Europe for a meeting of NATO and G7 leaders to decide how the military alliance and the world’s major economic democracies can do more to help Ukraine defend itself.

European Commission President Ursula von der Leyen met with Trudeau on Wednesday. Praising the spirit of unity in the transatlantic community since the start of “Putin’s atrocious and cruel war”, she said Canada and the EU will work together to provide humanitarian aid.

Gaps in the sanctions net

There will be a new G7 working group to share information on sanctions and enforcement, she said.

His remarks came during a heated debate among European parliamentarians on the effectiveness of sanctions to date. Many have pointed to the loopholes that still allow billions of euros to flow into Russia.

WATCH | European Union Ambassador to Canada Melita Gabrič on the possibility of new sanctions against Russia

New EU sanctions package against Russia could arrive as early as tomorrow, says EU ambassador

The EU could announce a fifth package of sanctions against Russia as early as tomorrow and Ottawa should act together, said European Union Ambassador to Canada Melita Gabrič. 8:05

Von der Leyen also announced that the EU and Canada will strengthen their cybersecurity cooperation to help the Ukrainian and Moldovan governments with defense and internet access.

She also called for “strategic energy cooperation” with Canada, arguing that “our, the European Union’s, dependence on Russian fossil fuels… puts Europe’s energy security at risk.” .

“We need to get rid of our dependence on Russian fossil fuels, and in response, the European Union and Canada will take our strategic energy cooperation to the next level,” she said.

Trudeau also met on Wednesday with Sanna Marin, Prime Minister of Finland.

Finnish Prime Minister Sanna Marin: “It is crucial that Russia stops all military action on Ukrainian soil.” (Magazine/AFP via Getty Images)

“The situation in Ukraine is very serious, and it is so important that the EU, Canada, the United States and Great Britain work together with the sanctions against Russia, trying to find a peaceful solution. to the situation, and also trying to create Ukraine to negotiate peace,” Marin said. “It is crucial that Russia stops all military action on Ukrainian soil.”

Trudeau said Finland’s “proximity” to Russia gave him useful information about the war.

“Finland has a deep closeness and thoughts on Russia that I look forward to hearing … but also opportunities for us to talk about how we can continue to stand strong for democracies around the world and the kind of things that matter to both us and to our fellow citizens,” he said.