April 16, 2014. David Pugliese - Defence Watch
Lee Berthiaume of Postmedia has this article today:
OTTAWA — The possible deployment of Canadian military forces into Eastern Europe will be top of mind Wednesday when senior NATO officials present alliance members with options for dealing with the crisis in Ukraine.
The so-called “re-assurance package” to be presented to NATO members was drawn up amid concerns from Poland, Latvia and other Eastern European NATO members about Russia’s larger intentions in the region.
While the package hasn’t yet been presented, NATO Secretary General Anders Fogh Rasmussen has said it will focus on three areas: reinforced defence plans; enhanced training exercises; and “appropriate deployments” of NATO forces into the region.
Foreign Affairs Minister John Baird, who will tour Eastern Europe later this week, has said the government is waiting for the package of recommendations before determining any future military involvement in the region.
Canada has taken a hard line with Russia over its actions in Ukraine, with Prime Minister Stephen Harper this week describing the Russian government as “clearly aggressive, militaristic and imperialistic,” and “a significant threat to peace and stability in the world.”
Environment Minister Leona Aglukkaq announced Tuesday that Canada will not attend Arctic Council meetings set to take place in Moscow this week, the latest in a string of measures aimed at isolating Russia.
Canada has also voiced its strong support for Eastern European NATO members, who joined the alliance after the fall of the Soviet Union to escape Russia’s influence. Harper spoke to Latvian Prime Minister Laimdota Straujuma on Tuesday, with the conversation largely focused on the situation in Ukraine.
It’s unclear to what degree Canada and other governments are willing to contribute militarily to help bolster Eastern Europe in the face of Russian aggression. Canada has previously helped train forces and bolster capabilities in surrounding countries during crises in Mali and Syria, and has provided non-lethal equipment to militaries in Central America. Similar high-level efforts in Poland, Lithuania, Latvia and Estonia would likely be inexpensive and involve little risk.
However, the deployment of CF-18 fighter jets, naval ships or troops on the ground would be a much larger and much more politically sensitive contribution.
Canada pulled the last of its troops from Afghanistan only last month, and the Defence Department is facing deep budget cuts as the Harper government tries to balance the books for next year’s federal election.
But the government also has not come down on whether it thinks NATO should boost its presence in Eastern Europe in the first place.
Fellow NATO members are sharply divided: While the United States and Eastern European countries strongly favour such a move, Western European members fear it will prompt retaliation from Russia, a nuclear power.
The divisions are not only geographic, but also based on how much each alliance member’s economy relies on Russia.
The U.S. has already deployed 18 additional fighter jets as well as several warships to the region since the crisis erupted in February, and has indicated its willingness to post more forces, including hundreds of troops, on a rotational basis.