By Andrius Sytas
VILNIUS (Reuters) -Canada on Monday pledged to double its NATO-mandated deployment in Latvia with up to 1,200 more troops to try to secure the vulnerable Baltic region against any Russian aggression.
NATO has set up multinational battlegroups of about 1,000 troops in each of the Baltic states of Estonia, Latvia and Lithuania since Russia annexed Crimea from Ukraine in 2014. The battlegroups are configured to act as a tripwire for larger forces in case of a conflict.
Since Russia’s full-scale 2022 invasion of Ukraine, the battlegroups have been reinforced. The Baltics – all of which have borders with Russia – have been calling for them to be beefed up further into battle-ready brigades of about 3,000-5,000 troops.
Germany announced in June it would keep 4,000 troops in Lithuania permanently. Estonian officials said their defence needs had been met by a British fighting force based outside Estonia but which can be deployed there within days in a crisis.
“We are going to more than double our presence … to serve and defend democracy and the rule of law,” Canadian Prime Minister Justin Trudeau told a joint press conference with his Latvian counterpart Krisjanis Karins at the Adazi military base in Latvia after an agreement was signed.
Canada commands the NATO battlegroup in Latvia, currently 1,700 strong, a number including troops from nine other NATO members. It is the largest overseas military engagement for Canada.
Trudeau said the added Canadian personnel “will reinforce and enhance our land, maritime and air capabilities and support special operations in central and eastern Europe” and the other nations will increase their presence in the battlegroup too.
The three Baltic republics have sharply increased military spending since 2014 but their economies and militaries are small. Canada pledged C$2.6 billion ($2 billion) to renew and expand the Latvian mission for three years starting in 2023-24.
The investment includes critical weapons systems and support for intelligence and cyber activities, Trudeau said before heading to neighbouring Lithuania for a NATO summit.
There Canada is expected to come under pressure from allies to increase its defense spending further to a minimum of 2% of gross domestic product per year. At 1.29% of GDP in 2022, Canada’s defense spending as a percentage of GDP is about the same as it was in the late 1990s.
Canada has been lobbying to include in the calculation its expenditure space, cyber and artificial intelligence (AI) research, the Canadian Broadcasting Corp reported on Monday, citing sources.
($1 = 1.3283 Canadian dollars)
(Reporting by Andrius Sytas and Johan Ahlander; additional reporting by Steve Scherer and Ismail Shakil in Ottawa; editing by Anna Ringstrom and Howard Goller)
Brought to you by www.srnnews.com