OTTAWA – Prime Minister Stephen Harper is accusing Russian President Vladimir Putin of mounting a “slow-motion” invasion of Ukraine.
Harper’s latest broadside against the Russian leader came Monday in Ottawa at the start of talks with U.S. Gen. Philip Breedlove, NATO’s supreme commander.
“We are obviously concerned by the continuing escalation of violence in Ukraine, which to me very much appears to be clearly what I would call a slow-motion invasion on the part of the Putin regime,” Harper said as Breedlove nodded his agreement in the prime minister’s Langevin Block office.
Breedlove is embarking on two days of talks with Canadian political and military leaders just as heavy clashes erupt between Ukrainian and pro-Russian forces in Ukraine’s eastern region.
Later Monday, in a speech to diplomats and defence experts at the Canadian War Museum, he warned that the redrawing of borders by force in Europe is no longer a thing of the past.
NATO is not only dealing with the current turmoil, but also preparing in case it spreads, Breedlove said.
“It is clear the events of the last few weeks have served to strengthen the Transatlantic Bond … now we need to be better prepared for next crisis, when it comes,” he said.
Earlier in the day, Breedlove met briefly with Harper, Defence Minister Rob Nicholson and Canada’s military commander, Gen. Tom Lawson.
The meetings were held against a backdrop of escalating violence in Ukraine, where the country’s elite troops have been dispatched to quell unrest in the key southern port city of Odessa.
Harper called the latest developments “very deeply concerning” and acknowledged NATO has asked for Canada’s support.
When the conflict in Ukraine first erupted, questions about NATO’s relevance in the post-Cold War era evaporated overnight, Breedlove said in his speech.
“Russia’s aggression in Ukraine has caused a paradigm shift,” he said. “In response, NATO must and will adapt to remain credible and relevant.”
Pitched battles between pro-Russian militants and Ukrainian forces are taking place in and around the city Slovyansk, which has been a hotbed of unrest.
Harper said the Department of National Defence has contributed air, naval and army assets to help reassure eastern European allies that they have the support of NATO and Canada.
A Canadian frigate has been dispatched to operate with NATO’s standing task force in the eastern Mediterranean Sea, along with six CF-18 fighters to operate out of a Romanian air base and troops from the 3rd Battalion Princess Patricia’s Canadian Light Infantry, who will participate in a land exercise in Poland.