Canada, U.K., Netherlands discuss humanitarian coalition for Ukraine

The prime ministers of three leading western democracies met at a Royal Air Force base to discuss what sort of firm humanitarian action can be taken to ease the suffering of the Ukrainian people as Russia's invasion of the eastern European country grinds on.

British PM says Canada, U.K. are united against Russia's 'aggression' in Ukraine

British Prime Minister Boris Johnson (centre), Canadian Prime Minister Justin Trudeau (left) and Dutch Prime Minister Mark Rutte (right) meet at RAF Northolt, near London, on Monday. The three leaders gathered to discuss Russia's invasion of Ukraine. (Henry Nicholls/Reuters)

British Prime Minister Boris Johnson invoked the Battle of Britain as he opened a bilateral meeting Monday with Prime Minister Justin Trudeau as the two leaders met to discuss the rapidly evolving crisis in eastern Europe.

The two met in the officer's mess under a portrait of the Queen at a Royal Air Force base in Northolt, west of London. It was one of the major bases in the defence of the United Kingdom during the Second World War, and they spoke about its history before turning to the brutal, modern war taking place in Ukraine.

"Canada and the U.K. are at one on many things," Johnson said, before noting the two nations were "particularly united in our stand against [Russian President Vladimir] Putin's aggression in Ukraine."

Trudeau said he was happy to be there with "Boris" to support the Ukrainian people and to "hold Russia to account and stand up for democracy around the world."

The two leaders were also on hand for the arrival of Dutch Prime Minister Mark Rutte, who is joining them for further talks later Monday.

The three leaders are discussing Johnson's proposal to create a humanitarian coalition of nations, one point in a six-point plan the U.K. has put forward to address the crisis, where the mounting civilian death toll has caused widespread outrage.

WATCH | Trudeau arrives in Europe for Ukraine-Russia talks:

Russia-Ukraine on the agenda as Trudeau arrives in Europe

2 years ago
Duration 1:17
Prime Minister Justin Trudeau arrived in Europe ahead of a series of meetings with European allies aimed at discussing Russia's invasion of Ukraine. Some are questioning why Trudeau is meeting with allies, rather than holding talks with countries not doing more to push back against Russian President Vladimir Putin.

On Monday, following pleas from French President Emmanuel Macron, Russia agreed to open humanitarian corridors in several Ukrainian cities, including the capital Kyiv, as well as Kharkiv, Sumy and Mariupol, the besieged southern port community.

There is one catch, though, according to maps published by RIA, the Russian news agency — the safe passage corridors lead to either Russia, or the country's ally Belarus. 

The Ukrainian government described the plan as a "completely immoral stunt." 

It may be a moot point, however, as there are several reports that Russian forces have continued their shelling. 

The limited ceasefire came after a weekend where ten of thousands of Ukrainian civilians attempted to flee the Russian bombardments of their cities, but were forced back into shelter after being targeted. 

Military assistance

In addition to the humanitarian crisis, Canada, the U.K. and the Netherlands are discussing what further military assistance the three nations can provide in terms of weapons.

Canada is working on providing anti-tank weapons, rocket launchers and grenades, as well as non-lethal equipment. It has previously delivered machine guns, carbines, hand pistols and 1.5 million rounds of ammunition. 

Last week, Britain's under-secretary of defence, James Heappey, told the U.K.'s House of Commons that Britain would provide a further package, but refused to discuss the details. 

NATO, including Canada and the U.K., has rejected the imposition of a no-fly zone over Ukraine, saying it could lead to a dangerous escalation of the war and bring Western nations in direct confrontation with Russian pilots.

The three leaders, however, are under pressure to come up with an alternative. 

WATCH | U.S., Poland, Ukraine plan fighter-jet swap as Russia warns against foreign interference:

U.S., Poland, Ukraine plan fighter jet swap as Russia warns against foreign interference

2 years ago
Duration 1:56
The U.S., Poland and Ukraine are working out plans for a fighter jet swap that would see Poland provide jets to Ukraine, while U.S. jets would backfill the Polish airfleet. Russia has warned that even the use of neighbouring airfields would be seen as direct military involvement.


Murray Brewster

Senior reporter, defence and security

Murray Brewster is senior defence writer for CBC News, based in Ottawa. He has covered the Canadian military and foreign policy from Parliament Hill for over a decade. Among other assignments, he spent a total of 15 months on the ground covering the Afghan war for The Canadian Press. Prior to that, he covered defence issues and politics for CP in Nova Scotia for 11 years and was bureau chief for Standard Broadcast News in Ottawa.