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More to do on defence, Trudeau says after meetings with Polish leaders in Warsaw

WARSAW, Poland — Prime Minister Justin Trudeau is defending Canada's defence spending levels as he wraps up a three-day visit to Ukraine and Poland.

Trudeau says Canada is the seventh-largest contributor to defence of all 31 NATO allies, but he acknowledges there is still more to do.

He met today with Polish Prime Minister Donald Tusk, who says it's essential that the western world rise to meet the global threat posed by Russia.

Tusk says he's convinced every NATO will "sooner or later" reach the spending levels necessary to mount a proper defence.

He also describes Canada as being among the most valuable and essential allies to Europe and Poland.

Trudeau, who spent Saturday in Kyiv reaffirming Canada's support for Ukraine, met earlier with Tusk and President Andrzej Duda at the Presidential Palace in Warsaw.

It's Trudeau's first visit to the Polish capital since a political sea change in the country late last year ended eight years of national conservative rule.

Tusk, who also served as prime minister from 2007-14, is a centrist who took office in December and has been working to strengthen ties with the rest of Europe.

Duda, meanwhile, stands on the other side of the political divide — a conservative leader who now finds himself contending with a very different government.

The meetings focused on the dangers facing Ukraine and the importance of the NATO alliance, the primary bulwark between Russian President Vladimir Putin and the rest of Europe.

Canada is under renewed pressure to spend two per cent of its gross domestic product on defence — a NATO-mandated target most other allies are expected to hit by the end of the year.

Canada's spending hovers around 1.3 per cent of GDP.

Both Canada and Poland have rallied around Ukraine as the country enters its third year of war with dwindling supplies and personnel challenges, prompting an urgent plea for help from Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskyy.

Its troops recently withdrew from the strategic eastern city of Avdiivka, handing Moscow one of its biggest victories. And Russia still controls roughly a quarter of the country after Ukraine failed to make any major breakthroughs with its summertime counteroffensive.

The looming uphill battle didn't prevent Trudeau from doubling down on a promise to back Ukraine until it sees victory.

"Putin cannot win," Trudeau said Saturday in a speech from Hostomel airport, where Ukrainian soldiers beat back a Russian assault on day 1 of the invasion.

"Ukraine will see victory, just like what happened on this ground two years ago."

The Polish government wants to ensure Canada and other allies stay engaged in the war raging just over its border, Canada's ambassador to the country said in an interview on the weekend.

Catherine Godin called the war in Ukraine a real and present threat to the people of Poland.

The two countries have been co-operating on military training missions to bolster the military skills of Ukraine's armed forces. And Poland appreciates Canada's role in guarding NATO's eastern flank in Latvia, Godin said.

As for what the change of government in Poland means for Canada, Godin said Canada wants to support Tusk's momentum.

Tusk has been working to repair Warsaw's fraught relationship with Brussels after the European Union described Poland's previous government as a threat to judicial independence.

In 2021, the EU called out what it considered deficiencies in Poland's national justice systems, anti-corruption frameworks, and media freedom.

"They've been working really hard on the rule of law. It's been the key preoccupation to allow them to demonstrate that they're committed to it and that they can access EU funds and they are demonstrating commitment on human rights," Godin said.

"This is aligned with Canadian values as well."

This report by The Canadian Press was first published Feb. 26, 2024.

— With files from The Associated Press

Laura Osman, The Canadian Press