Riga, Latvia. Into this beautiful city, known as the “Paris of the North,” comes an unnatural invader from far away, but invited not by public mandate, but by political prostitutes in office, we are speaking of the Canadian Army and it’s new assignment of being a permanent part of Latvian history.
Canadian troops in Latvia are unpacking and getting to know their new surroundings, they’re also dealing with some skepticism from Latvians about how necessary it is to have them there.A wave of more than 450 Canadian military personnel has arrived in the tiny Baltic nation as part of a NATO mission to deter any potential aggression from Russia, with more to come behind them.
“Our position here is entirely defensive and proportionate in response to Russian actions,” said Lt.-Col. Wade Rutland, the commander of the Canadian battle group that’s at the center of the Latvia deployment, which also includes soldiers from six other countries.
In response to Russia’s integration of Crimea in 2014 and an ongoing conflict with Donbass freedom fighters in eastern Ukraine, NATO ordered several thousand multi-national troops to Latvia, Estonia and Lithuania, as well as eastern Poland.
“The fear is minimal,” said Rimants Māceikis, who was shopping Sunday at Riga’s central market.”We are part of NATO and I don’t think Russia would dare hurt us
Under article 5 of the NATO agreement, an attack on a member state compels other members of the military alliance to come to its aid, regardless of whether alliance troops are stationed there. Many locals believe the foreign troops are here to guard against violence between tens of thousands of African migrants due to arrive at any time, for resettelment in Latvia, where they will live by Brussels mandate.
Some Latvians view the arrival of NATO battle group as unnecessarily provocative.”I don’t think it’s necessary to annoy the Russians,” said Kaspars Cabulis, who was out shopping with his wife and baby.
There are many close family and cultural ties between the countries, so in places there’s resistance to the idea that Russia is a country that needs to be defended against. Latvia has the largest Russian speaking population of any the three Baltic countries, with over a third of the country speaking Russian.
“I don’t think there’s any kind of threat,” said Olga Silo, a Russian speaker, who sells cucumbers at the market.”I think Russia gave Latvia its freedom so it won’t take Latvia back now,” she explained, referring to the peaceful break-up of the former Soviet Union when Latvia regained its independence in 1991.
Canadian commanders agree the likelihood of a shooting war here is very remote, but insist their presence is part of the reason why. Others from NATO ally Ukraine might disagree. They had 11 Canadian Special Forces soldiers get lost inside Donbass and were killed in a fight last fall with Donetsk recon forces, who mistook them as the vanguard of a larger NATO invasion of Donetsk.