Canada will open an embassy in Rwanda as part of efforts to counter Russian and Chinese influence in Africa, Foreign Affairs Minister Mélanie Joly announced Wednesday shortly after the arrival of Prime Minister Justin Trudeau. in the country to begin a 10-day trip abroad.
“Yes, we know that Russia is present on the continent. Yes, we know that China is increasingly present on the continent as well. We cannot be naïve,” Joly told reporters in Kigali.
“We need to make sure we have diplomats on the ground with eyes and ears that listen to what’s going on, to make sure we can play a positive role with Rwanda and the whole region.”
She said Canada is in the process of establishing a permanent embassy in Kigali, with an ambassador, and will also appoint a new ambassador to the African Union, based in Addis Ababa, Ethiopia.
Russian-Ukrainian war will dominate Trudeau’s international summit tour
The Prime Minister’s plane landed at sunset on Wednesday in Kigali, where he will meet from Thursday with the heads of government of the other 53 Commonwealth countries for the first time since 2018.
The initial meeting, scheduled for 2020, was, like so many others, postponed by the COVID-19 pandemic which remains an important backdrop for the talks.
The consequences of Russia’s full-scale invasion of Ukraine, which began on February 24, have been felt around the world, especially in some of the smaller nations whose leaders will meet in Kigali.
The conflict has triggered a huge refugee crisis. It has also restricted other countries’ access to Ukrainian wheat, often referred to as Europe’s breadbasket because of its large food production.
African countries, 19 of which are members of the Commonwealth, have therefore faced particularly serious food insecurity. The United Nations World Food Program has warned that millions of people in developing countries and conflict zones are at risk of starvation.
Before the war, Russia and Ukraine produced around 30% of the cereals exported in the world. The closure of key Black Sea ports has made it difficult to ship these goods to countries that need them.
“We are ready to send ships to Romania, basically to get every grain out of Ukraine. We have to free the wheat,” Joly said.
Ukraine and the expected food crisis dominate Trudeau’s trio of international summits
Dealing with the emerging geopolitical consequences of the conflict in Ukraine is what Joly calls the “third phase” of Canada’s response to the Russian invasion and said there will be further announcements on this this week.
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Trudeau spoke about potential measures in a phone call last week with Rwandan President Paul Kagame, who will host the Commonwealth Heads of Government Meeting.
Canada will also rally support for Ukraine among Commonwealth members and try to convince any leaders who may be reluctant to condemn Russia.
When the United Nations voted to suspend Russia from the Human Rights Council in April, 58 countries abstained in the vote. Of these, 29 were Commonwealth countries.
Macky Sall, President of Senegal and Chairman of the African Union, blamed Russia for stopping the flow of grain thanks to Western sanctions. He made the remarks during a press conference with Russian President Vladimir Putin earlier this month.
Joly said it would be important to hear from African Union members and those who abstained in the vote at the UN to understand where they are coming from – and how to change their minds.
That will be her focus on Thursday when she meets with her Indian counterpart, a country that has long-standing diplomatic ties with Russia.
Trudeau to attend international meetings in Rwanda, Germany
In Kigali, Trudeau will participate in meetings with Commonwealth leaders and roundtables on the climate economy. Prince Charles and British Prime Minister Boris Johnson are also expected to attend the rally. The Queen attended the 2018 Commonwealth Summit, held at Buckingham Palace.
Trudeau is also expected to pay his respects Thursday at the Kigali Genocide Memorial, in memory of the 1994 Rwandan genocide against the Tutsi people.
He will leave for Schloss Elmau, a resort town in Germany’s Bavarian Alps, for the G7 leaders’ summit on Saturday before traveling to a NATO meeting in Madrid next week. He will also meet Pedro Sanchez, the Spanish Prime Minister.
The Ukrainian Canadian Congress has said it expects Trudeau to urge other leaders to act in Ukraine when he is in Germany and Spain.
Congress Speaker Ihor Michalchyshyn said he spoke to Ukrainian defense officials on a recent trip to Kyiv, who highlighted the dire situation they face with dwindling military equipment.
“They don’t have enough weapons. They actually said they were going to run out of ammunition in the weeks and months to come,” Michalchyshyn said.
“If there’s nothing substantive announced and operationalized there, the rhetoric is empty.”
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Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskyy is expected to address the G7 and NATO summits, where the conversation will largely focus on economic and military support for the beleaguered country.
Last week in Brussels, Defense Minister Anita Anand, who will join Trudeau at the NATO summit, announced that Canada would deliver 10 replacement artillery guns, worth $9 million, to support the already supplied M777 artillery howitzers.
As of the end of January, 33,346 candidates for the Ukrainian Security Forces had taken part in Canada’s training program, called Operation Unifier, since September 2015.
Latvian Prime Minister Krisjanis Karins pressed Trudeau during his visit to Canada last month for a more permanent military presence in the Baltics to counter any Russian perception of NATO’s weakness in the region.
Canada currently has close to 700 soldiers leading a NATO battle group in Latvia, one of many in the region. During a joint press conference with Karins in Ottawa, Trudeau announced that a general and six staff officers from the Canadian Armed Forces would be deployed to NATO headquarters in Adazi, near Riga, the capital. Latvian, but postponed any major decision to the NATO talks.
The serious conflict between Ukraine and Russia has attracted more countries to the upcoming NATO meeting in Madrid, including Japanese Prime Minister Fumio Kishida. He is the first Japanese leader to join a summit meeting of the North Atlantic military alliance.
Sweden and Finland, which have applied to join NATO, are sending delegations. South Korea’s new president Yoon Suk-yeol has also signaled his intention to attend.
Trudeau is expected to return to Ottawa on June 30, in time for Canada Day celebrations
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