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Polish leader makes plea for more NATO support during B.C. stop

Andrzej Duda in Vancouver to meet with Prime Minister Justin Trudeau
Poland President Andrzej Duda, arrives to speak at an event titled “Transatlantic Security in the Shadow of Russia’s Long War,” in Vancouver, B.C., Friday, April 19, 2024. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Tijana Martin

Poland’s president says members of the North Atlantic Treaty Organization, including Canada, must raise defence spending to three per cent of GDP to deter Russia’s war in Ukraine from spreading.

Andrzej Duda made the comments at a speech in Vancouver on Friday, a day ahead of his meeting with Prime Minister Justin Trudeau.

While not saying Canada by name, Duda says the West has “a lot of gaps” in its industrial base to produce military aid for Ukraine in its defence against Russia, a problem that needs to be resolved if Moscow’s threats are to be deterred.

Duda says he first broached the idea of NATO members boosting defence spending from two per cent to three per cent of GDP during a visit to the United States in March, and will again push the topic during a NATO summit in Washington, D.C., in July.

In 2022, Canada spent 1.2 per cent of its GDP on its military. The last time it was at two per cent was 1990.

Poland, which shares a border with Ukraine, has boosted its defence spending to four per cent of GDP and has been one of the top military aid providers to Ukraine.

Duda says Baltic and Eastern European countries near the front lines of the Russia-Ukraine conflict need support in backing Ukraine and he called for other allies to help bring about “a clear military loss” for Moscow.

“They understand exclusively this very language,” Duda says. “Regrettably, they don’t care much for Western sanctions and for declining living standards.”

When asked what Canada can do to support Poland in its efforts, Duda recounted a conversation with Trudeau about a week before the conflict between Russia and Ukraine broke out.

He says Trudeau was worried about Poland’s “tough policy” against illegal migration and its possible impact if Ukrainian refugees flooded Polish borders during a war.

The Polish leader says both its policy against illegal migration and the subsequent opening of borders to Ukrainian refugees reflect a common principle that Poland has an obligation to its allies and partners.

“You should remember that we have responsibility for the border of the European Union and Schengen zone,” says Duda, referring to the border area around the European Union.

“We have to protect this border not only in our own interest but also in the interest according to European obligations.”

Duda adds Poland believes Russia would move westward if Ukraine falls, with the Baltic states and Poland in its immediate path, and while Poland is prepared, it doesn’t negate the need for others in NATO to also prepare.

“Unfortunately, yes, we are ready,” he says. “But we also realize that we have to strengthen our military capabilities.

“We need new tanks in state-of-the-art technology. We need new howitzers. We need new helicopters … what we buy from the United States, from American industry, from South Korean industry (is) because we need it.”

Duda arrived in Canada from the United States, where he met earlier this week with former U.S. President Donald Trump in New York in what the Polish leader described as a “friendly meeting in very nice atmosphere.”

Funding aimed at providing more aid to Ukraine in the U.S. has been held up by Trump allies in Congress.

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