BERLIN — Canada's foreign affairs minister called for a ceasefire in Russia's invasion of Ukraine on Wednesday, arguing the Ukrainian government needs the breathing room as it heads into talks with the Putin regime.
"We need to make sure to support Ukrainians while diplomatic talks are happening by imposing maximum pressure … it’s more than that. Because when we do so, we actually give them a lever to negotiate," Foreign Affairs Minister Mélanie Joly said in an interview Wednesday.
"Right now, it's not about a diplomatic solution. It's about saving lives and so that's why it's a humanitarian corridor … and there needs to be a ceasefire," she added.
"Because you can't negotiate when you have a gun to your head."
Earlier Wednesday, Joly spoke with her Ukrainian counterpart, Dmytro Kuleba, before he headed to Turkey for talks with Russian Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov and Turkish Foreign Minister Mevlut Cavusoglu.
It was one of three conversations that Prime Minister Justin Trudeau and members of his cabinet had with four members of the embattled and defiant Ukrainian government hunkered down in Kyiv.
The conversations happened from Berlin, where Trudeau was on the third day of his four-country European tour as the Russian war on Ukraine, which the Office of the United Nations High Commissioner for Human Rights says has now killed more than 400 civilians, ended its second week.
At the same time, NATO Secretary-General Jens Stoltenberg used an address to a Canadian defence conference to condemn Russian President Vladimir Putin for invading Ukraine.
"Whatever happens in the months ahead, whatever Moscow seeks to achieve through violence and aggression, it will fail. It is failing already," Stoltenberg told participants while appearing virtually at the Conference of Defence Associations Institute event.
"President Putin wants to snuff out the flame of freedom and democracy in Ukraine. But however dark the coming days and weeks may be, the flame will continue to burn. Europe and North America will help keep that flame alive."
On Wednesday, a Russian airstrike hit a maternity hospital in the besieged port city of Mariupol, leaving more than a dozen wounded. Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskyy called the bombing an "atrocity" on Twitter and said there were children "under the wreckage" of the airstrike.
There had been several failed attempts to follow through on ceasefires that would have let civilians flee Mariupol and other heavily bombed areas.
Hours before the attack, Trudeau spoke to Zelenskyy and said the Ukrainian leader accepted an invitation to address Canada's Parliament. He addressed the British Parliament by video link Tuesday.
Deputy Prime Minister Chrystia Freeland, who is also the finance minister, said she spoke to her two counterparts, Ukrainian Finance Minister Serhiy Marchenko and Prime Minister Denys Shmyhal, on Wednesday.
Trudeau told an international audience Wednesday there needs to be a recommitment to democracy in the face of Putin's invasion of Ukraine.
"At its best, democracy is always stronger than authoritarianism," Trudeau said in a speech to the Munich Security Conference, a Berlin-based international think tank.
"But if we're going to be honest with each other, democracy hasn't exactly been at its best these past few years," he added. "Even as we're fighting Putin's invasion, we need to recommit ourselves to the work of strengthening our democracies."
Trudeau praised Zelenskyy in his speech, which was a sequel of sorts to the 2017 address he gave in Hamburg, Germany, that outlined his foreign-policy vision, and his often-professed faith in the rules-based international order.
"President Zelenskyy and the Ukrainian people who are demonstrating so much courage and resilience — they’re not only defending their country, they’re defending the democratic values that are so important to all of us," said Trudeau.
"They're standing up to authoritarianism. And Canada and Germany stand with them."
Zelenskyy said on Twitter that his conversation with Trudeau on Wednesday was focused on how to increase sanctions and pressure on Russia.
It was Trudeau’s first conversation with the Ukrainian leader in six days.
Freeland and Joly joined Trudeau for the speech and spoke to reporters afterwards outside the venue near the Brandenburg Gate, Berlin's famed symbol of peace and freedom.
Joly told reporters Wednesday that "more sanctions are coming, and you'll have more information" to keep "maximum pressure" on Russia.
Freeland called the maternity hospital bombing an "atrocity" and said "all of us in our government are in very close contact with our Ukrainian partners … and we're very aware of what's happening."
Freeland said when she looks at pictures of the carnage, "I have to stop looking at them. It is an atrocity what is happening in Ukraine. And I think a person would have to have a heart of stone to not be moved."
Trudeau met earlier with Chancellor Olaf Scholz and their talks focused on the need for an immediate ceasefire in Ukraine and a desire to end the war without further escalation.
Trudeau also announced Wednesday Canada would send another $50 million in specialized equipment, including Canadian-made cameras for surveillance drones, to help Ukraine defend itself against the Russian invasion.
Canada previously said it was shipping non-lethal equipment such as body vests and helmets, as well as more than $10 million in weapons such as machine-guns, rocket launchers and hand grenades.
Trudeau acknowledged getting the equipment into Ukraine has not been easy.
"There are challenges at the borders in terms of getting equipment securely across and into Ukrainian hands," he said. "But we are working through that with partners alongside all allies who are facing the logistical challenges that are real, but not insurmountable."
Trudeau opened the day visiting Berlin's Platform 17, a memorial that marks the railway station where 50,000 Jews were deported to ghettos and labour and concentration camps during the Holocaust.
The visit was poignant given that Putin, the Russian president, has falsely justified his attack on Ukraine because he says he is trying to save the country from Nazis.
Zelenskyy is Jewish.
Under a crisp blue morning sky, Trudeau walked solemnly along the station's steel platform accompanied by a small entourage that included a guide, Joly and Canada's ambassador to Germany, Stéphane Dion.
Trudeau paused silently for a few moments after laying flowers near a plaque at the end of the platform and made the sign of the cross before leaving. He did not speak to reporters.
Trudeau will also be meeting with U.S. Vice-President Kamala Harris in Poland on Thursday evening to discuss the situation in Ukraine.
This report by The Canadian Press was first published March 9, 2022.
— with files from Lee Berthiaume in Ottawa.
Mike Blanchfield, The Canadian Press
Note to readers: This is a corrected story. A previous version said Canada is sending surveillance drones.