OTTAWA — Foreign Affairs Minister Mélanie Joly is headed to eastern Europe as part of a push to shore up Canada's ties with countries in Russia's backyard.
Her trip to Slovenia, North Macedonia and Albania follows a commitment by members of the NATO military alliance to support democracies facing Russian meddling and misinformation.
In Slovenia, Joly will take part in a panel discussion on multilateralism at the Bled Strategic Forum, an annual conference about security and development in southeastern Europe.
She plans to meet with government officials from Moldova and Belarus's opposition, with both countries facing anti-democratic forces supported by Moscow.
In North Macedonia, Joly is set to meet with Prime Minister Dimitar Kovacevski and his senior ministers to discuss trade and defence issues.
In Albania, she will meet with Prime Minister Edi Rama and members of his cabinet about the rule of law and equity issues, according to a press release.
Joly's office says the trip is part of a plan she announced in May that called for Global Affairs Canada to engage more with the United Nations. Albania is holding a temporary seat on the UN Security Council, which will be transferred to Slovenia next year.
North Macedonia, meanwhile, chairs the Organization for Security and Co-operation in Europe, the continent's largest security organization and one of the last forums where Russia and the West can discuss defence and conflict.
The trip aims to "listen to the experience of countries in the region and explore concrete ways to support these partners," her office wrote in a statement, calling all three countries "key partners for Canada" on the continent.
"Our shared values, including the defence of democracy and the pursuit of a rules-based world order, unite us," Joly is quoted saying.
Her trip comes as North Macedonia undertakes politically difficult reforms as part of its years-long quest to join the European Union.
In 2019, the country conceded to demands from Greece to add the word "North" to its name. More recently, Bulgaria has demanded the country recognize ethnic Bulgarians in an official list of groups that reside in North Macedonia, a move opposed by conservative parties.
Joly has said Canada needs to engage more with countries that face Russian influence, particularly smaller countries. The Liberals have announced new embassies in places like Lithuania and Armenia, though they have been criticized for closing down the Canadian International Arctic Centre in Norway.
This report by The Canadian Press was first published Aug. 26, 2023.
Dylan Robertson, The Canadian Press