Canada to extend NATO mission in Baltics

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Canada to extend NATO mission in Baltics



Trudeau met with Latvian Prime Minister Krišjānis Kariņš in Riga at the prime minister’s office.

Canada to extend NATO mission in Baltics

Trudeau met with Latvian Prime Minister Krišjānis Kariņš in Riga at the prime minister’s office.

RIGA, Latvia—Canada will extend its NATO military mission in Latvia, which was due to end next year, Prime Minister Justin Trudeau said Tuesday.

It is welcome news to many of the military commanders here.

In an interview before the announcement, Canada’s top soldier told the Star that Canadian soldiers leading the NATO battle group in a country bordering Russia are on the “frontlines of freedom.”

Gen. Wayne Eyre, chief of defence staff, was speaking after chatting to many of the troops on exercises.

He said with the war in Ukraine and fears of Russian expansionism, the work of Canadian soldiers has taken on new meaning.

“They see renewed purpose and why they’re here. It’s the frontline of freedom.”

“Our Latvian friends are just so happy to have us here. Everybody wants more Canada,” Eyre added.

Eyre was standing in rolling sandy fields where NATO troops had briefly paused for a visit by Trudeau and NATO Secretary General Jens Stoltenberg along with Latvia’s prime minister and president, and Spain’s prime minister. Canada and Spain are among 10 countries participating in the NATO deployment in Latvia.

Trudeau announced that Canada would extend its mission here indefinitely, a year before it was set to expire, at a news conference on a massive Latvian army base where security was tight but the day’s visit of VIPs had a casually defiant air.

The mission is known as Operation Reassurance.

Eyre added that Canadians training with multi-national forces are gaining valuable experience as well.

“So the more experience we have, how to integrate the multinational team, how to build those teams, how to work with those teams—(it’s) tremendous experience,” he said.

Trudeau assured Baltic leaders who fear Russian aggression in Ukraine will spread into their countries that Canada and other NATO allies will stand up for them.

Trudeau met with Latvian Prime Minister Krišjānis Kariņš in Riga at the prime minister’s office.

As cameras rolled ahead of their private talks, Kariņš said that Russia’s invasion of Ukraine “instead of driving a wedge between Europe and North America, driving a wedge between NATO partners… is the exact opposite,” and that there has been a “coming together of minds and men and women.”

Trudeau echoed that assessment, saying “This is a moment for friends and allies to stand together. And that’s exactly what we’re doing.

“We’re not just standing up for territorial integrity… We’re also standing up for the principles and values underlying our friendship and societies.”

They were then joined virtually by Estonia Prime Minister Katja Kallas and Lithuania Prime Minister Ingrida Šimonytė.

“You are literally on the front lines of this challenge with Russia, Trudeau said, underscoring Canada’s forces have “been here for a number of years and will continue to be together…because we believe in a shared future of peace and prosperity for people and pushing back against the Russian aggression that is absolutely unacceptable.”

Trudeau is meeting here Tuesday with Canadian troops and with NATO’s Secretary General Jens Stoltenberg at the massive Latvian Ādaži army base at a critical time as Russia presses on with a brutal invasion in Ukraine. Ceasefires have been negotiated and failed, and civilians are coming under attack.

In Latvia, Canada leads a 10-country forward battle group, one of four NATO stood up in the Baltics and Poland after Russia seized Crimea from Ukraine in 2014.

Trudeau said the Baltic states live “not just with the military threat” and history of Russian occupation but with its use of “daily use of propaganda and disinformation to try and undermine the democracy and the values you have, something that is right now being weaponized against Ukraine, but also used very actively in all democracies around the west.”

Trudeau said, “This is not a time for us to step back. This is a time for us to step up. We are doing that alongside of you, and alongside our friends.”

Trudeau, accompanied by Defence Minister Anita Anand and Chief of Defence Staff Wayne Eyre, is showing up at the Latvian battle group led by Canadian soldiers, to wave the Maple Leaf.

U.S. Secretary of State Antony Blinken had delivered a similar message in Latvia a day earlier, and again Tuesday in Estonia where he too met with Kallas, and repeated that the NATO “alliance is strong and prepared to defend every inch of NATO territory.”

On a whirlwind tour in Europe as global leaders try to coordinate an international response to Russia President Vladimir Putin’s invasion of Ukraine, Trudeau has dropped hints his government could spend more money on the Canadian military in an upcoming budget.

Canada has been waving the NATO flag in Latvia as a bulwark against Russia’s further incursions in Eastern Europe.

NATO’s four battle groups are part of the defensive alliance’s display of strength and solidarity with weaker member states after Russia invaded Ukraine and seized the Crimean peninsula in 2014.

Trudeau arrived in the Latvian capital late Monday after meetings with British Prime Minister Boris Johnson and Netherlands Prime Minister Mark Rutte in the U.K.

Earlier Monday, faced with a seemingly unstoppable war in Ukraine Trudeau said he will look at increasing Canada’s defence spending. Given world events, he said there are “certainly reflections to have.”

Canada’s defence spending at 1.4 percent of GDP is shy of NATO’s target of 2 per cent of GDP.

But the prime minister publicly defended his government’s record in London Monday, at a news confrence with U.K. Prime Minister Boris Johnson and Dutch Prime Minister Mark Rutte, saying Canada is gradually increasing spending over the next decade by 70 per cent.

Then Trudeau admitted more might be necessary.

“We also recognize that context is changing rapidly around the world and we need to make sure that women and men have certainty and our forces have all the equipment necessary to be able to stand strongly as we always have. As members of NATO we will continue to look at what more we can do.”

The Liberals have already announced they would increase the 500 Canadian Forces in Latvia by another 460 troops.