Canada courted as Russian bulwark
Comparisons with Cold War Berlin were invoked this week, as Latvian and Canadian officials discussed ways to bolster NATO’s military presence in eastern Europe as a check against Russian aggression.
Latvia’s state secretary for foreign affairs, Andrejs Pildegovics, met with Canadian counterparts Thursday in Ottawa to determine what obstacles will need to be addressed if Canada agrees to lead a 1,000-strong multinational force in the Baltic state.
In an interview, Pildegovics wouldn’t confirm reports Canada has already agreed to such a leadership role in his country. However, he pressed the importance of Canada participating in some way, and compared the current situation in Eastern Europe with West Berlin during the Cold War.
“What we are talking about is a credible deterrence which could prevent the conflict,” Pildegovics told the Citizen. “In the past, in West Berlin, there were a few battalions of American, British and French troops. Of course, they could have been overrun by Russian tank divisions, but it never happened.”
Canada has had 200 soldiers in Poland since June 2014, three months after Russia annexed Crimea and began supporting separatist forces in eastern Ukraine. NATO, however, wants to establish a new force in eastern Europe that would provide a bulwark against any further Russian expansion or aggression.
The U.S., Britain and Germany each has promised 1,000 troops that will be stationed in different countries, but they need a fourth ally to step up. Eastern European allies have made no secret of their desire to see Canada take that role.
Pildegovics, who was in Washington before travelling to Ottawa, said it’s essential NATO allies present a united front against Russian President Vladimir Putin when Prime Minister Justin Trudeau and other alliance leaders meet in Poland next month. Canada’s participation in the multinational force, he said, would send “a very strong message.”
“It’s very important that we send a signal that it’s not just Americans or it’s not just Nordics, but it’s a really joint effort of all,” he said. “Particularly the presence of founding members such as Canada.”
Defence Minister Harjit Sajjan met this week with Latvian and Norwegian counterparts in Brussels. Norwegian officials say no decision has been made on whether the country will contribute troops alongside Canada. Similarly, Sajjan’s office says the government is “actively exploring options” to help NATO.
A report by Canada’s spy agency, the Canadian Security Intelligence Service, suggested this month that Russia was “mobilizing for war.”
The deployment of the new NATO force is expected to anger Russia.
Canadian soldiers take part in a training exercise in 2014 in Poland with their U.S. and Polish counterparts. Canada is being urged to lead a 1,000-strong multinational force in Latvia as part of a check against Russian aggression.