OTTAWA — The head of NATO has singled out Canada with praise for agreeing to take a leadership role in the standoff with Russia.
Speaking in Brussels on Monday, NATO Secretary General Jens Stoltenberg said Canada’s promise to lead a 1,000-strong force in Eastern Europe sends a clear signal that the alliance is strong and united.
“This is a great contribution to our common security, and a clear signal that our nations will defend one another on both sides of the Atlantic,” Stoltenberg said in a press conference held days before NATO leaders, including Prime Minister Justin Trudeau, meet at a summit in Warsaw.
The Liberal government announced last week that Canada would join Germany, the United Kingdom and the United States in leading a 4,000-strong NATO reassurance force in the Baltics and Poland.
The decision came after significant pressure from European and American allies, with U.S. President Barack Obama stating in his address to Parliament on Wednesday that “NATO needs more Canada.”
Canadian troops are expected to be deployed to Latvia, where they will make up the majority of a 1,000-strong battalion that will also include forces from other NATO members. Germany, the U.K. and the U.S. will lead similar units in Lithuania, Estonia and Poland.
Eastern European NATO members have been clamouring for a bolstered alliance presence in the region since Russia seized Crimea and began supporting separatist rebels in eastern Ukraine in early 2014.
Stoltenberg emphasized the deployments were not intended to aggravate Russia. “NATO does not seek confrontation,” he said. “We don’t want a new Cold War. What we do is proportionate. It’s defensive.”
Russia has nonetheless been critical of the reassurance force, and relations between the two sides have deteriorated to levels not seen since the Iron Curtain fell.