Latvia's ambassador to Canada is defending a NATO decision to send a Canadian-led battle group to his Baltic country in 2017, after a Russian diplomat suggested this act of deterrence aimed at Moscow was a waste of resources that would be better spent fighting terrorism.
Karlis Eihenbaums said it's Moscow's aggression that has made the deployment necessary, including a buildup of Russian military assets on Russian territory adjoining Eastern and Central European countries.
Alexander Darchiev, Moscow's ambassador to Canada, told The Globe and Mail in an interview on Wednesday he felt the coming North Atlantic Treaty Organization deployment to Latvia was an unwise diversion of resources from fighting what he considered the biggest menace: terrorism. Mr. Darchiev acknowledged it was a "sovereign decision" made by Canada but said he felt it would be bad for European security.
Mr. Eihenbaums said, however, that NATO's decision to shore up its eastern flank – including sending British fighter jets to Romania and U.S. tanks and soldiers to Poland – was triggered by Russia's annexation of Crimea in 2014 and the ongoing support Moscow is providing to pro-Russian militants in Eastern Ukraine still fighting a bloody war with Kiev.
Russia may call NATO deterrence efforts unwarranted, but Moscow is also increasing its military presence along its western borders, even though the alliance "does not seek confrontation," the Latvian envoy said.
Mr. Eihenbaums points to moves such as Russia's recent decision to place cutting-edge Iskander missiles in its Baltic enclave of Kaliningrad, adjoining Lithuania and Poland. These missiles are capable of carrying a nuclear warhead and hitting targets hundreds of kilometres away.
A Reuters report last month documented a new Russian program to militarize the Crimean peninsula, revamping multiple Soviet-built facilities in the region, building new bases and stationing soldiers there.
"There is also the deployment or increased deployment toward Latvian borders," Mr. Eihenbaums added.
Mr. Darchiev said NATO deterrence actions – which the Western military alliance said are meant to ward off Russian expansionism – will hurt the ability to hold high-level dialogue between Ottawa and Moscow.
Mr. Eihenbaums said NATO's planned deployment of four multinational battalions in Estonia, Latvia, Lithuania and Poland is an important signal to these countries, which were under Soviet control for many decades. "It's a symbolic act. Everybody understands that 1,000 or 2,000 foreign troops do not make a difference if it's a battlefield [situation], but it makes sense in European psychology: in understanding we are not alone."
The Latvian envoy said NATO's defensive actions are not a threat to Russia and should not hinder dialogue.
"Deterrence is showing backbone; showing backbone is not the same thing as showing a fist. The backbone inspires respect," Mr. Eihenbaums said. "Respect facilitates dialogue."
He said NATO does not want to "invite a fight by looking like we aren't ready to stand up for what belongs to us."
Russia's envoy to Canada this week talked of the end of a "unipolar world with one indispensable power," meaning the United States, and called for a return to "realpolitik," a style of politics or diplomacy generally considered to be based on practical considerations rather than ethics, ideals or ideology.
Mr. Darchiev said it's time for a new deal akin to the Potsdam Agreement – the post-Second World War pact between Allied powers including the Soviet Union – where the United States, Russia and other major players come together to hammer out an arrangement that resolves disagreements and sets rules.
Latvia's envoy called this language "alarming," saying the Russian diplomat sounds like a throwback to a bygone era – "a world order built on powers [that] carve the world up amongst themselves" at a bargaining table.
"We all know how dangerous that old world order was and what were the outcomes. In fact, bargaining tables – dividing lines and spheres of influence were emphasized by my colleague, the Russian ambassador [but] I don't think anyone, not even Russia, wants such a world."
At the same time as the military buildup is occurring, Ukraine conducted missile tests in early December near Crimea, actions that escalated tensions with Russia that prompted it, at least initially, to put its land- and shipborne air defences in the annexed peninsula on higher alert.
As the two-day test unfolded, Ukraine said it would avoid the airspace over Crimea but blamed Russia for the need to test the missiles. "The only reason that forces us to conduct training is the need for constant readiness to full-scale invasion of our aggressive neighbour," Ukrainian President Petro Poroshenko said in a statement.
Mr. Eihenbaums said he was among the first foreign ambassadors to visit the Russian embassy this week to sign a book of condolences for the recent assassination of Andrei Karlov, Moscow's envoy to Turkey. "While there are things afoot which put us at odds, there are things which draw us together."
He said one could easily question Russia about its use of resources in Syria, where it has helped the Assad regime regain the upper hand. "It is a fact that Aleppo has been bombed and pounded for weeks by Russian planes flown by Russian pilots."
Moscow justifies its aid to the Assad regime by saying it is helping fight jihadi groups such as the Islamic State.
With reports from Reuters