NATO Secretary-General Jens Stoltenberg and Prime Minister Justin Trudeau warned Russia’s Vladimir Putin that he risks provoking the entire military alliance if he escalates his aggressions beyond his war in Ukraine.
“We are stepping up to send an even stronger message to President Putin that an attack on one ally will trigger the response from the whole alliance,” Mr. Stoltenberg said during a press conference Tuesday at Latvia’s Adazi Military Base.
Speaking just a few hundred kilometres west of the border with Russia, the Secretary-General of the North Atlantic Treaty Organization raised his rhetoric against Mr. Putin. The Kremlin’s war in Ukraine has already created more than two million refugees, and hundreds of civilians have been killed in indiscriminate bombings.
Amid what Mr. Stoltenberg called Europe’s “shattered peace,” he has spent the past week touring military bases in alliance countries that are particularly exposed to Russia. The bases have all been injected with NATO troops in recent weeks in response to Mr. Putin’s troop buildup around Ukraine and subsequent invasion.
After stops in Poland and Estonia last week, Mr. Stoltenberg was in Latvia Tuesday alongside Mr. Trudeau and Latvian Prime Minister Krisjanis Karins and Spanish Prime Minister Pedro Sanchez.
“We do not seek conflict with Russia,” Mr. Stoltenberg said, as he called for the war to be contained to Ukraine. The Secretary-General said the commitment to NATO’s collective defence principle, enshrined in Article 5, is “absolute.”
Since Russia’s invasion of Crimea in 2014, NATO allies have sent rotating troops to the group’s eastern flank, bordering Russia. The response has led to a historic buildup of reinforcements in the east, Mr. Stoltenberg said. Canada leads the alliance’s battle group at the Latvian base, which includes troops from 10 NATO countries.
Mr. Trudeau said the Russian President made a “fundamental miscalculation” in his war with Ukraine. “I can speak for all NATO members when I say we will all abide by Article 5,” he said.
Canada’s troop deployment in Central and Eastern Europe is its largest international placement. As part of that, 540 Canadian soldiers are stationed at the Latvia base. Mr. Trudeau said the government was indefinitely extending the mission, and adding approximately 130 more Canadian Armed Forces members.
The leaders’ tour at the base was set against a dramatic backdrop. The tour overlooked the area where troops were taking part in a war exercise – put on pause while the leaders were on site. And the press conference was held in front of a staged phalanx of troops and heavily armoured vehicles.
The war simulation was “to make sure that if we have to for real, we actually can do it,” Latvian Colonel Sandris Gaugers explained to the leaders.
Stéfanie von Hlatky, the director of the Centre for International and Defence Policy at Queen’s University in Kingston, said the base visits are more than just political photo-ops. The risk of an expanded war is “palpable,” she said, and leaders need to make that clear not just to Mr. Putin, but also to their own citizens.
Prof. von Hlatky said NATO needs to clearly communicate its resolve and military capabilities, in part because its credibility has been undercut by leaders such as former U.S. president Donald Trump and French President Emmanuel Macron.
In Latvia’s capital of Riga, signs of support for Ukraine appear at almost every street corner and banners in Ukraine’s yellow and blue fall in columns in front of the Prime Minister’s Office. During a meeting there earlier on Tuesday with the leaders for Latvia, Estonia and Lithuania, Mr. Trudeau acknowledged the more vulnerable position their countries are in.
“You are literally on the front lines of this challenge with Russia,” Mr. Trudeau said.
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