By Andrius Sytas
VILNIUS (Reuters) -Canada pledged to double its NATO-mandated deployment in Latvia with up to 1,200 more troops in an effort 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, and 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.
“Our presence in Latvia will be strengthened and it will become a brigade,” added Trudeau, who was visiting Latvia ahead of a NATO summit in neighbouring Lithuania on Tuesday and Wednesday.
The three Baltic republics have sharply increased military spending since 2014 but their economies are small and so are their militaries.
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.
(Reporting by Andrius Sytas and Johan Ahlander; editing by Anna Ringstrom, Kevin Liffey amd Mark Heinrich)
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