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NATO expansion focus of parliamentary committee trip to Europe to study Ukraine

Committee studying impact of war, considering new countries to join NATO

Expanding the North Atlantic Treaty Organization has become a major focus of Parliament’s foreign affairs committee as it tours several European countries to study the impact of the war in Ukraine, the committee chair said in an interview in Warsaw Sunday.

The committee members started their journey in Sweden last week and will end in Finland — two countries that are in the final stages of joining NATO.

“We think that the eastern flank really has to be strengthened,” said committee chair Ali Ehsassi.

Canada was the first NATO ally to approve Sweden and Finland’s bids to join the organization, doing so through a unanimous vote in Parliament. The countries applied to join the military alliance just months after Russia’s invasion of Ukraine one year ago.

Their bids have stalled as they await approval from two holdout countries: Hungary and Turkey.

The committee members made a stop in Brussels to speak with NATO officials there about the importance of extending membership to the two countries and to reiterate Canada’s staunch support.

Canada signed an agreement with Latvia in June to lead a NATO battlegroup in the country as an advanced forward presence along the Russian border.

Ehsassi said further requests to Canada from NATO are an “ongoing discussion.”

“We’re doing a superb job in Latvia, but we need to examine more ways in which we can assist,” he said.

The committee has already published one interim report on the findings of their study of the war in Ukraine, but Ehsassi said it is important for members to travel abroad to speak to international allies.

The committee was invited by their counterparts in Ukraine to visit the country itself, but the request did not get the green light from the liaison committee — the parliamentary body responsible for approving the budget for the trip — because of security concerns.

“There’s no substitute for being on the ground, listening to Ukrainian parliamentarians, having those discussions,” said Ehsassi, who already made a personal trip to the Ukrainian capital of Kyiv earlier this year.

The committee is also studying Canadian aid to Ukraine and keeping up with international best practices to support the embattled country.

The final report will bring together several elements of Canada’s role in the conflict, including financial, military and humanitarian aid.

“We’ve had the opportunity to visit shelters, we’ve had the opportunity to meet with NGOs on the ground who are providing assistance, we are meeting with individuals who are operating in Ukraine itself,” Ehsassi said.

“I think it’s really, really important that we remain on top of developments in Ukraine, and that we’re up to date as to where some of those gaps are.”

Members from various political parties on the committee put emphasis on different measures, but Ehsassi said all are united on the importance of maintaining staunch support for Ukraine against the Russian invasion.

“As I like to put it, our differences come to an end at the water’s edge when it comes to the issue of Ukraine,” he said. “We’re all very much focused and very much committed to helping as best we can.”

Laura Osman, The Canadian Press