Canada Bulks Up Diplomatic Footprint in Europe in Wake of Ukraine War

Leaning forward—from the foreign ministry.

By , a national security and intelligence reporter at Foreign Policy, and , a diplomacy and national security reporter at Foreign Policy.
U.S. Secretary of State Antony Blinken (left) speaks with Canadian Foreign Minister Mélanie Joly
U.S. Secretary of State Antony Blinken (left) speaks with Canadian Foreign Minister Mélanie Joly
U.S. Secretary of State Antony Blinken (left) speaks with Canadian Foreign Minister Mélanie Joly at a NATO summit in Madrid on June 29. Susan Walsh/Pool/AFP via Getty Images

Canada is set to significantly expand its diplomatic presence in Central and Eastern Europe and the Caucasus, including the opening of four new embassies, as it seeks to bolster support for allies along NATO’s eastern flank, Canadian Foreign Minister Mélanie Joly announced on Wednesday at the NATO summit in Madrid.

Global Affairs Canada, the country’s foreign ministry, is set to open embassies in Lithuania, Estonia, and Slovakia, and expand its diplomatic footprint in Latvia, a fellow NATO member on the alliance’s vulnerable eastern flank with Russia. The news comes as Canada consults with allies on beefing up its military presence in the Baltic region. In February, Canada dispatched an additional 450 troops to Latvia, where it leads a multinational NATO battlegroup, bringing the country’s total number of troops in the country to 1,300—its largest overseas military presence. A further 3,400 Canadian troops were put on standby for potential deployment to Europe in February, in the wake of Russia’s military invasion of Ukraine. 

“What we need to do as a strong diplomatic power is to increase our capacity, to hear what’s going on in [a] given country, have much more eyes and ears on the ground to be able to support countries that are at the front lines of Russia,” Joly said in an interview with Foreign Policy. 

Canada is set to significantly expand its diplomatic presence in Central and Eastern Europe and the Caucasus, including the opening of four new embassies, as it seeks to bolster support for allies along NATO’s eastern flank, Canadian Foreign Minister Mélanie Joly announced on Wednesday at the NATO summit in Madrid.

Global Affairs Canada, the country’s foreign ministry, is set to open embassies in Lithuania, Estonia, and Slovakia, and expand its diplomatic footprint in Latvia, a fellow NATO member on the alliance’s vulnerable eastern flank with Russia. The news comes as Canada consults with allies on beefing up its military presence in the Baltic region. In February, Canada dispatched an additional 450 troops to Latvia, where it leads a multinational NATO battlegroup, bringing the country’s total number of troops in the country to 1,300—its largest overseas military presence. A further 3,400 Canadian troops were put on standby for potential deployment to Europe in February, in the wake of Russia’s military invasion of Ukraine. 

“What we need to do as a strong diplomatic power is to increase our capacity, to hear what’s going on in [a] given country, have much more eyes and ears on the ground to be able to support countries that are at the front lines of Russia,” Joly said in an interview with Foreign Policy. 

Canada is also in discussion with NATO and Latvia about further boosting their military presence in the country, she said. “That’s why we wanted to make sure that we reinforce the diplomatic presence.” 

The announcement from Ottawa is the latest example of how Western allies are scrambling to reassess their military and diplomatic postures in Europe in the wake of Russia’s February invasion of Ukraine, which sent shock waves through the international political system and prompted Canada and its NATO allies to try to isolate Russia.

U.S. President Joe Biden announced on Wednesday the United States would establish a permanent military presence in Poland and step up rotational deployments of its forces to the Baltic states, while Germany has agreed to nearly double the number of troops it has stationed in Lithuania, from 550 to 1,000. Even some of Washington’s top allies in Asia are following suit: Japan’s and South Korea’s leaders are for the first time attending a NATO summit as observers, and South Korea has announced it will open a diplomatic mission to NATO. 

Canada, which has one of the world’s largest Ukrainian diasporas, has played an outsized role in crafting the Western response to Russia’s invasion of Ukraine and has committed to sending military supplies and economic assistance to Kyiv, as well as finding ways to address the global food security crisis sparked by the war. 

As part of Wednesday’s announcement, Canada will also open an embassy in Armenia as it seeks to support the country’s fragile democracy. Amid an ongoing review of Canada’s overseas presence, Joly recently announced plans to upgrade the country’s diplomatic presence in Rwanda and establish a dedicated mission to the African Union. Leaders of the world’s biggest economies gathered in Europe this week for the G-7 and NATO summits.

At the G-7 summit in Krün, Germany, leaders pledged an additional $4.5 billion to address food insecurity, as the war has compounded strain on food supplies, pushing 323 million people worldwide to the brink of starvation, an unprecedented level, according to the G-7. Russia and Ukraine combined account for around one-quarter of the world’s wheat exports. A fall in Russian exports and Moscow’s ongoing blockade of Ukraine’s ports have created a bottleneck in agricultural supply chains, driving up prices of staple foods in the Middle East and Africa. 

One of the largest global wheat suppliers, Canada is hoping to boost its own wheat production by 44 percent to help compensate for shortages caused by the war. On Sunday, Canadian Prime Minister Justin Trudeau announced an additional $50 million to help prevent Ukraine’s current grain haul from going to waste, and Canada is shipping mobile grain storage silos to help store this spring’s harvest. 

Western officials have repeatedly accused Moscow of seeking to use its chokehold over Ukraine’s grain supplies as blackmail as it seeks sanctions relief. Margarita Simonyan, editor in chief of RT and one of the Kremlin’s top propagandists, said as much speaking alongside Russian President Vladimir Putin at the St. Petersburg International Economic Forum earlier this month. “All of our hopes are pinned on famine,” she said.

“We need to make sure that the narrative is clear, that the global food crisis is happening because of Putin’s war of choice in Ukraine,” Joly said. 

But Russian officials have also sought to blame the West for the food crisis as Moscow seeks to erode global support for Western sanctions. The invasion of Ukraine has placed many countries in the global south in a bind, as they have been reluctant to join Western efforts to isolate Russia, forced to balance their own economic and security ties with Moscow. 

“We know that the food security issue is destabilizing many countries within the Middle East and Africa, and we can’t only be talking to each other in isolation,” Joly said.

Amy Mackinnon is a national security and intelligence reporter at Foreign Policy. Twitter: @ak_mack

Robbie Gramer is a diplomacy and national security reporter at Foreign Policy. Twitter: @RobbieGramer

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