OTTAWA — Prime Minister Justin Trudeau is en route to Latvia today to visit Canadian troops and highlight Canada’s military commitments to NATO just ahead of the treaty organization summit later this week in Brussels.
It will mark the first ever bilateral visit by a Canadian prime minister to Latvia and comes as the country celebrates its centenary.
Trudeau is making a point to spend time with the 450 Canadian military personnel that are embedded in Latvia as part of a key NATO battle group, established as the alliance’s response to Russia’s surprise annexation of Crimea in 2014 and its invasion of eastern Ukraine. Canada leads the mission, known as Operation Reassurance, which includes troops from Albania, the Czech Republic, Italy, Poland, Slovakia, Slovenia and Spain.
The prime minister is expected to use the occasion to reaffirm Canada’s commitment to NATO and attempt to fend off criticism about defence spending raised last month by U.S. President Donald Trump, highlighting instead Canada’s military presence and infrastructure dedicated to the alliance.
“This Latvian enhanced forward presence mission altogether in the Baltics and Poland is one of the most successful missions of NATO,” said Karlis Eihenbaums, the Latvian ambassador to Canada.
“We feel much more stable as a people and also the NATO eastern flank is much more stable. You can ask our neighbouring countries which are not NATO members, like Sweden or Finland, what they think, they are very much for this presence … they are very happy that Canadians are there.”
But despite its on-the-ground presence in NATO missions like Latvia, Canada and other countries have faced U.S. pressure to meet the alliance’s target of spending two per cent of GDP on defence and 20 per cent of defence budgets on equipment — targets member states agreed to at a summit in Wales in 2014.