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Canada backs NATO's eastern members: Baird

By: The Associated Press

 | Apr 22, 2014 - 3:13 PM |
Canadian Foreign Affairs Minister John Baird, left, shakes hand with his Czech Republic's counterpart Lubomir Zaoralek, right, after their joint press conference in Prague, Czech Republic, Tuesday, April 22, 2014. THE CANADIAN PRESS/AP, Petr David Josek

Canadian Foreign Affairs Minister John Baird, left, shakes hand with his Czech Republic's counterpart Lubomir Zaoralek, right, after their joint press conference in Prague, Czech Republic, Tuesday, April 22, 2014. THE CANADIAN PRESS/AP, Petr David Josek

Foreign Affairs Minister John Baird, who plans to visit several eastern European countries this week, has stressed Canada's support for NATO's eastern members on a visit to the Czech capital of Prague.

"We will stand with you in the face of aggression," Baird said after meeting his Czech counterpart Tuesday.

Prime Minister Harper said April 14 that Russian actions in Ukraine were a threat to world peace and he announced the same day he was sending Baird to talk to allies in eastern Europe this week.

Other countries Baird is visiting this week include Slovakia, Poland, Latvia and Estonia.

Last week, Canada announced it would contribute six CF-18 jet fighters to a NATO air-policing mission to be based in Poland.

Baird said in Prague: "We will be making other announcements of specific projects in the coming days."

Canada and Poland are to announce a joint package to assist Ukraine when Baird is in Poland. Baird is in Krakow Thursday and Warsaw Friday.

Marcin Bosacki, the Polish ambassador to Canada, said in an interview with The Canadian Press earlier this month that the assistance will include measures to strengthen Ukraine's democratic institutions.

Meanwhile, five NATO mine-hunting ships set off Tuesday on a deployment in the Baltic Sea, part of the alliance's efforts to strengthen its presence in Europe's ex-communist east as members there worry about Russia's intentions in Ukraine.

The ships — a minesweeper and a support ship from Norway and one mine-hunter each from the Netherlands, Belgium and Estonia — left the German port of Kiel for an exercise that will continue under Norwegian command until the end of May. Germany will then take command of the deployment.

The ships will visit several Baltic ports and also participate in previously scheduled operations to dispose of ordinance from the two world wars.

Commodore Arian Minderhoud, the NATO Allied Maritime Command's deputy chief of staff for operations, said the exercise "is part of the whole package of ... actions to show NATO's resolve, to show NATO's preparedness."

NATO said last week it was strengthening its military footprint along its eastern border.

With files from The Canadian Press

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