The Canucks are on the ground in Latvia.
Canadian Army soldiers deployed near the Latvian capitol of Riga began arriving Saturday as the first part of an enhanced NATO role in the country, CBC News reports. It’s a prominent mission as tensions continue to remain high with neighboring Russia, which controlled the Baltic nation throughout the Cold War.
The Canadian contingent’s commander says it won’t be difficult to assesss whether or not NATO is successful in keeping the Russian bear at bay.
“It’s a funny mission success criteria, that if nothing happens, we’ll all go home happy, but that’s it,” said Lt. Col. Wade Rutland.
The Canadians are the first of 450 soldiers that are expected to land in Latvia over the next week to maintain a stronger NATO presence near the capitol in a tactical position called the “enhanced forward presence” in military parlance.
They will lead a battle group composed of a multinational force of troops and heavy equipment from several European countries including Italy, Spain, Poland, Slovenia and Albania. The mission is expected to cost $348.5 million over the next three years.
Maj. John Hagemeyer, a company commander, jumped off the plane carrying his kit bag and exclaimed to CBC, “It’s good to finally be here. We want to be here. Latvia wants us here.”
Latvia fears Russian aggression because of the past and the present. It was targeted by the Soviet Union when Stalin was allied with Nazi Germany from 1939-41 and was again occupied by Soviet soldiers in 1945. Today, after Russia annexed Crimea in 2014, many Latvians wonder if the Russian arm won’t reach further north in an attempt to retake land that many Russians view as part of their historic empire.
Though Canadians have been in Latvia before as part of NATO, the current mission has no expiration date. They will be staying at a Soviet-era base less than an hour’s drive from Riga. The military facility had fallen into disrepair of late and the Latvians have had to initiate some serious renovations.
But the Canadians are bringing it up to NATO standard. Lt. Col. Hugo Delisle is in charge of the 185 personnel who are preparing the site for operational readiness.
“The soldiers right now have only had two days off in the last 45 days. They’re working 10 hours a day to arrive at this point, ” said Delisle.
Though NATO will soon have over 4,000 combat troops in the Baltic region, that number is dwarfed by the size of the Soviet force that is facing them — believed to be up to 70,000.
Hagemeyer isn’t worried about Russia’s superiority in numbers.
“That’s not our concern,” he said. “We are fully prepared for the highest levels of threat.”