By Scott Taylor
All the old warhorses in Ottawa are abuzz over the fact that NATO has apparently singled out Canada to provide troops for a new deterrent force in Eastern Europe.
According to media reports, NATO officials are looking for Canada to deploy about 1,000 combat soldiers to a base in Latvia on a permanent basis. These Canadian soldiers would be part of a joint German, British and U.S. Baltic deployment totalling 4,000 troops.
The more hawkish pundits breathlessly refer to the Baltic States — Estonia, Lithuania and Latvia — as NATO’s eastern “flank” (rather than using the words border or boundary), implying that a war with Russia is already underway.
Since April 2014, Canada has been sporadically deploying small contingents of combat troops to Eastern Europe for brief training exercises. These rotating missions were part of Canada’s contribution to NATO’s Operation Reassurance, which was triggered by Russia’s annexation of the Crimea and the severe unrest in Eastern Ukraine.
At that juncture, the Chicken Littles were convinced that Russian President Vladimir Putin had begun his quest for world domination, and NATO needed to rush men to the ramparts of Fortress Europe. Our little combat contingents, usually not more than 200 soldiers at a time, have since then dutifully conducted training operations in Poland and the Baltic.
Thankfully, the sky has not fallen. Putin’s annexation of the Crimea followed a bloodless occupation and a referendum wherein 96.77 per cent of the population chose to join Russia rather than remain a part of the internally collapsing Ukraine.
In truly hypocritical fashion, then U.S. Secretary of State Hillary Clinton denounced the Crimea referendum as a sham and burbled, “You can’t just redraw the map of Europe.” This would be the same Hilary Clinton whose presidential hubby Bill led 1999’s 78-day NATO bombing campaign against Serbia in order to create an independent Kosovo. That bloody intervention cost the lives of thousands of Serbian and Albanian citizens, and when Kosovo did proclaim unilateral independence in 2007, it was done without any referendum.
Two years after Russia’s annexation, more than 80 per cent of Crimean poll respondents reported that they remain happy with their decision to secede from Ukraine.
In contrast, nine years after Kosovo’s declared independence and 17 years after the NATO intervention, residents are voting with their feet: Considered the poorest and most corrupt country in Europe, tens of thousands of Kosovars out of a population of less than two million have joined the mobs of migrants seeking a better life in Western Europe.
Furthermore, Putin’s land grab in the Crimea was something of a strategic necessity given the February 2014 overthrow of President Viktor Yanukovych in Kiev and the subsequent civil unrest across Ukraine. The Crimea was historically Russian and even after Ukraine separated from the Soviet Union in 1991, the Russian Black Sea Fleet continued to lease from Ukraine its navy base in Sevastopol. The current lease was not due to expire until 2040, but Putin could not risk a pro-Western regime in Kiev threatening his fleet’s expulsion.
In the subsequent interval, Putin has made no further claims on additional Ukrainian territory. He has not annexed the rebellious pro-Russian eastern provinces and Russian foreign policy remains committed to the breakaway, self-declared independent republics of Donetsk and Luhansk remaining within a Ukrainian federation — albeit with increased autonomy.
Also, against all predictions by those longing for a good old Cold War-style showdown with the Russkies, the Minsk II ceasefire agreement continues to hold, with only occasional minor infractions by both sides.
For NATO to move 4,000 combat troops right up to Russia’s Baltic borders at this moment has to be seen as a deliberate provocation of Russia, just as things seem to be stabilizing. The Colonel Blimp Brigade may be bulging with pride that Canada was asked to contribute to this force, but maybe a better question would be why are the other European NATO members staying away in droves?