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Canada to deploy troops, fighters and a frigate to protect [sic] the Baltic states

By Murray Brewster, CBC News, July 8, 2016

NATO war summit in Poland on July 8, 9 2016

NATO war summit in Poland on July 8, 9 2016

Canada will soon deploy a battle group of soldiers as well as significant equipment to Latvia as part of a stepped-up NATO plan to deter further Russian aggression in Eastern Europe, Prime Minister Justin Trudeau will tell Western leaders today in Warsaw.

In addition, the Liberal government has renewed a commitment to provide six CF-18 fighter jets for air policing duties over the Baltic states, a mission the air force last conducted in 2014.

Related readings: At NATO war summit in Poland, U.S. announces 1,000 more soldiers to Poland, report in The Guardian, July 8, 2016

Canada set to sign trade deal, military co-operation agreement with Ukraine, by Murray Brewster, CBC News, July 7, 2016

It will also continue the deployment of a navy frigate as part of NATO’s standing task force, something first ordered by the former Conservative government.

Then-Canadian PM Harper on board HMCS Fredericton patrolling Baltic Sea in June 2015 (Adrian Wyld, Canadian Press)

Then-Canadian PM Harper on board HMCS Fredericton patrolling Baltic Sea in June 2015 (Adrian Wyld, Canadian Press)

The Trudeau government last week signalled its willingness to join the military alliance’s high-readiness land brigade that’s being assembled to defend the tiny Baltic states and Poland, but it was left to the prime minister to brief other NATO leaders on Friday about what precisely Canada was prepared to bring to the table.

“Canada is playing a strong, constructive role in the world,” Trudeau said in a written statement.

The contribution is being described in military circles as a “framework battalion,” meaning Canada will provide the backbone of one of four combat formations. The U.S., Britain and Germany will create their own battalions.

Troops sprinkled on Russia’s doorstep

Trudeau’s statement did not provide any troop numbers, but each multinational battle group is expected to be roughly 1,000 soldiers in size.

Being a “framework nation” does not mean Canada will deliver all of the troops in its formation. It could, for example, mirror the British commitment, which was pegged on Friday at roughly 650 soldiers.

In addition to infantry companies, Canada will be expected to provide headquarters oversight, leadership and other essential support units that allow the battalion to function and fight. Other NATO countries will contribute smaller contingents to each battalion.

It will be a long-term deployment. Every six to nine months, a fresh batch of Canadian troops will be rotated through the battalion until NATO decides to dissolve the brigade.

The battalions will be sprinkled on Russia’s doorstep, providing both reassurance and insurance to some of the newest members of the military alliance — all of them former Cold War adversaries who are alarmed at Moscow’s annexation of Crimea [sic] and the ongoing war in Eastern Ukraine.

Russia could see brigade as ‘sabre-rattling’
Map of Baltic Sea regionThe three Baltic states — Latvia, Lithuania and Estonia — have sizable Russian populations, which some fear could be used as a pretext for a takeover [sic], as it was during the spring of 2014 in Crimea.

Some critics, notably Germany’s foreign minister, have warned the NATO brigade will be seen as a provocation and “sabre-rattling” by the Kremlin.

Western leaders have signalled their intention for months and Russian President Vladimir Putin’s government has responded with not only the usual war of words, but with hardware and a planned buildup of troops.

Last spring, Russian Defence Minister Sergei Shoigu announced the Russian military would create by the end of 2016 two new army divisions totalling approximately 20,000 soldiers. One will be stationed on its western border, while the other will be on the southern frontier.

“The Defence Ministry is undertaking steps to counter the growing NATO potential in close proximity to Russian borders,” Shoigu said in a statement.

The creation of the new units represents a doubling of Russian troops along its western frontier since January.

Perhaps most importantly for the Canadian troops about to go into the Baltic: there were published reports last month that suggested Russia was preparing to deploy advanced nuclear-capable missiles in Kaliningrad, a tiny spit of territory wedged between Poland and Lithuania.

The Reuters news agency, quoting unnamed senior Russian defence officials, said the placement of Iskander mobile missiles will likely take place in 2019 and comes in direct response to the establishment of U.S. anti-missile sites in eastern Europe.

The Iskander replaced the infamous Scud as the premiere ground-to-ground missile in the old Soviet arsenal.

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