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Minister Blair Concludes Visit to Belgium for Ukraine Defense Contact Group and NATO Defence Ministers’ Meetings

Operation UNIFIER

Image: Bill Blair, the Minister of National Defence, speaks to the members of Op UNIFIER’s UK Training Element on September 17, 2023 Credit: MCpl Nicolas Alonso, CAF

The Honourable Bill Blair, Minister of National Defence, concluded a productive visit to Brussels, Belgium, where he participated in the 16th United States-led Ukraine Defense Contact Group (UDCG) meeting and the North Atlantic Treaty Organization (NATO) Defence Ministers’ Meeting (DMM).

During the UDCG meeting on October 11, hosted by United States Secretary of Defense Lloyd J. Austin III, Minister Blair announced that Canada would provide a new package of military assistance to Ukraine, including $25 million worth of winter clothing and equipment and various types of 155 mm artillery ammunition, smoke ammunition, gas masks, aircraft bombs, and naval ammunition. On the margins of the UDCG meeting, Minister Blair participated in a meeting of Defence Ministers from the Joint Coalition on F-16 Training, led by the Netherlands and Denmark.

Minister Blair hosted Ukraine’s Defence Minister, Rustem Umerov, for a bilateral meeting. Minister Blair reaffirmed that Canada will continue to support Ukraine for as long as it takes, and received an update on the battlefield situation from Minister Umerov. Minister Blair committed to remaining in close contact with Minister Umerov, so that Canada can step up to meet Ukraine’s most pressing defence priorities. Negotiations were recently launched for Canada-Ukraine bilateral security commitments, following Canada’s endorsement of the G7 Joint Declaration of Support for Ukraine on the margins of the NATO Summit in July.

On October 11, Minister Blair also met with Kajsa Ollongren, Minister of Defence of the Netherlands. Minister Blair thanked Minister Ollongren for the Netherlands’ leadership role in the Joint Coalition on F-16 Training and reaffirmed that Canada will contribute to the coalition by supporting the training of Ukrainian personnel.

Minister Blair also met with Andris Sprūds, Latvia’s Minister for Defence. Minister Blair highlighted Canada’s plans to scale up its military presence in Latvia, following Prime Minister Justin Trudeau’s announcement that Canada is committing $2.6 billion in funding starting in 2023-24, to renew and expand Operation REASSURANCE for three years. Up to 2,200 troops will be persistently deployed, more than doubling Canada’s previous deployment. Through our close collaboration with our Latvian counterparts and NATO Allies, we are continuing our work to implement the Canada-Latvia Roadmap that was signed in summer 2023.

Minister Blair also spoke with NATO Secretary General Jens Stoltenberg, who welcomed Minister Blair to Brussels for his first meeting of NATO Defence Ministers. Minister Blair reiterated Canada’s strong commitment to NATO, and contributions to the biggest reinforcement of the Alliance’s collective defence in a generation. To advance this reinforcement, Minister Blair later attended a working dinner with representatives from Germany and the United Kingdom, which, like Canada, lead multinational NATO Battle Groups in the Baltic states, as well as representatives from Latvia, Lithuania, and Estonia, which host these Battle Groups.

On October 12, NATO Defence Ministers received a briefing from Israeli Defence Minister Yoav Gallant about Hamas’ terror attack against Israel. Minister Blair condemned this attack in the strongest possible terms, and assured Minister Gallant that Canada’s support for the Israeli people is steadfast. Minister Blair also reiterated Canada’s support for Israel’s right to defend itself, in accordance with international law.

On the margins of the NATO Defence Ministers’ Meeting, Minister Blair met with Sweden’s Defence Minister Pål Jonson. Minister Blair noted Canada’s strong support for Sweden’s accession to NATO, and the two Ministers discussed the impacts of climate change on security, and security challenges facing the Arctic.

Minister Blair also participated in a bilateral meeting with German Defence Minister Boris Pistorious. Minister Blair welcomed Germany’s ongoing military support to Ukraine, and thanked Germany for being a Sponsoring Nation of the NATO Climate Change and Security Centre of Excellence in Montreal.

Finally, Minister Blair met with Finland’s Minister of Defence, Antti Häkkänen. Minister Blair stated that he looks forward to strengthening the Canada-Finland defence relationship given Finland’s accession to NATO. The two Ministers also discussed the protection of critical infrastructure, and Finland’s investigation of damage to its underwater infrastructure.

During the meeting of NATO Defence Ministers, Ministers agreed that Allies must and will continue to support Ukraine, as it fights against Russia’s illegal and unjustifiable war. To that end, Ministers reaffirmed NATO’s close relationship with Ukraine by participating in the first NATO-Ukraine Council at the level of Defence Ministers. Ministers also took stock of efforts to strengthen the Alliance’s deterrence and defence posture, following decisions at the Madrid and Vilnius summits.

As a founding member of NATO, Canada will continue to provide valuable contributions to the Alliance.

“Canada’s support for Ukraine and the NATO Alliance is steadfast. As we wrap up these productive meetings, Canada will continue to work alongside its partners and Allies to strengthen collective defence, contribute military aid to Ukraine, and uphold the rules-based international order. The NATO Alliance is united and our partnership is resolute.” The Honourable Bill Blair, Minister of National Defence

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