Canada courted as Rus­sian bul­wark

Ottawa Citizen - - POLITICS - LEE BERTHIAUME

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.

SGT. BERN LEBLANC / CANA­DIAN ARMY PUB­LIC AF­FAIRS

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.

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