It will take another three years for Canada to make good on its commitment to grow a multinational NATO battle group in Latvia to a combat-ready brigade, Prime Minister Justin Trudeau revealed Monday.
The two countries have signed a “road map” outlining the process, which began more than a year ago when Canada pledged to increase the size and capability of the battle group as part of NATO’s efforts to reinforce its eastern flank in response to Russia’s invasion of Ukraine.
The document sets out three phases for the work, which will eventually involve as many as 2,200 persistently deployed Canadian troops plus the ability to add hundreds of additional Armed Forces members as needed. It states that brigade buildup will be completed in 2025 and that Latvia will work to build new infrastructure.
“By 2026, Canada will complete the full implementation of persistently deployed brigade capabilities to Latvia,” the document says.
Trudeau held a joint press conference with Latvian Prime Minister Krišjānis Kariņš at the Ādaži military base outside Riga on Monday, where he also greeted some of the 800 Canadian Armed Forces members deployed to the mission.
He noted that the plans to grow Canada’s presence at Ādaži will exceed its current capacity, which is already strained. The base is a mix of permanent buildings, temporary shelters, tents and shipping containers.
Trudeau, who also met with Latvian President Edgars Rinkēvičs earlier in the day, said the additional personnel will reinforce and enhance Canadian land, maritime and air capabilities and support special operations in central and eastern Europe.
“This is the way forward in modern defence,” he said. “Almost a dozen countries from across NATO are co-operating, training and working alongside each other and learning valuable lessons from each other that make our collective defence stronger.”
The prime minister promised that Canada would procure and pre position critical weapon systems and help with intelligence and cyberactivities. In all, $2.6 billion has been set aside, including a $1.4-billion commitment made in the 2022 federal budget.
“Canada and all countries must be clear that Russia’s unprovoked war on an independent country, on a free and democratic Ukraine, is a threat to freedom, international law, human rights and the whole set of shared democratic values that generations of soldiers have fought to defend,” said Trudeau.
Last month, Defence Minister Anita Anand announced that a Leopard 2 tank squadron with 15 tanks and about 130 personnel would join the mission starting this fall. Canada has also pledged to buy air defence and coastal defence systems for the mission.
The NATO alliance has doubled the number of battle groups in the region since the war in Ukraine began, adding them to four countries.
Germany recently pledged to station a full brigade of its own in Lithuania, where it leads another battle group. The United States and United Kingdom have completed NATO exercises to show they can quickly scale up to brigade strength.
NATO leaders, including Trudeau, are expected to gather in Lithuania’s capital city beginning on Tuesday for their annual summit.
Canada and several other countries will be under pressure to increase their defence spending, as allies discuss making the current two per cent of GDP target a new minimum spend.
This report by The Canadian Press was first published July 10, 2023.