Part II: If there’s no Russian threat in the Baltics, why is Canada so enthusiastic about a new Cold War there?

Posted on August 19, 2016, 7:04 pm
10 mins

PHOTOS: The memorial to the Soviet soldiers who died conquering the city of Berlin in 1945, the last time a major world power seriously underestimated and misjudged the Russians. Below: NATO’s top soldier, Czech General Petr Pavel and the U.S. Army’s commander in Europe, Lieutenant-General Ben Hodges. They said what they said. Bottom: a detail from the Soviet memorial, located in the former East Berlin.


If there’s no Russian threat to the Baltics, what is it that our Canadian soldiers are doing there again?

Back on June 20, General Petr Pavel let it slip publicly what everyone in the know already knew, and that is that the Russians pose no threat to the three Baltic Republics, Lithuania, Latvia and Estonia.

PavelPetrGen. Pavel should know. After all, in addition to being until last year the Chief of Staff of the Czech Army, he’s now chair of the North Atlantic Treaty Organization’s Military Committee, which makes him theoretically the top soldier in NATO.

“It is not the aim of NATO to create a military barrier against broad-scale Russian aggression, because such aggression is not on the agenda and no intelligence assessment suggests such a thing,” Gen. Pavel told a news conference in Brussels with remarkable candour for a top-level military bureaucrat. (Emphasis added.)

Now, that’s a pretty categorical statement from a guy who, ex officio, really ought to know what he’s talking about.

HodgesBenJust the same, less than three weeks later, Prime Minister Justin Trudeau announced what his press release called “Canada’s largest sustained military presence in Europe in more than a decade” – leading a “NATO battle group” in Latvia as part of “the Alliance’s enhanced Forward Presence in Eastern Europe.” (The eccentric capitalization, by the way, comes straight out of the news release.)

One could argue this battle group would be better described as a provocation group, considering what they face right across the border in Russia, which may not covet the Baltic Republics but nevertheless most certainly intends to defend its own national sovereignty, as any country in the same situation would.

SovietIndeed, many of the activities Canada will be participating in – when actually examined as practiced on the ground, on the water and in the air – have the quality of provocations, notwithstanding the soothing language of Mr. Trudeau’s July 8 press release, issued during NATO’s summit in Poland.

“Additionally, the Canadian Armed Forces will deploy a frigate that will undertake operational tasks with NATO’s maritime forces in the region,” it said. “Canada will also deploy an Air Task Force – which will include up to six CF-18 fighter aircraft – to conduct periodic surveillance and air policing activities in Europe.”

Alert readers will note that when Russian warplanes fly in the direction of Canada, this is seldom described by Canadian politicians or media as “periodic surveillance and air policing activities.” They may be less aware, because this part was barely reported, that a U.S. guided missile ship carrying 2,500-kilometre range missiles was within 70 kilometres of a Russian naval base last spring when it was aggressively intercepted by Russian aircraft. Yet it was the response that prompted a media brouhaha.

The PM’s release went on: “The land, maritime and air initiatives … form Canada’s renewed mandate under Operation REASSURANCE and demonstrate Canada’s unwavering commitment to NATO, to the protection of Alliance territories, and to the ultimate goal of protecting the safety and security of our citizens.”

As has been said here before, it’s not really clear how poking at the Russians right on their doorstep – when even NATO’s commanders admit Russia has no plans or inclination to do anything aggressive in the Baltic Republics – protects the safety and security of Canadians.

Indeed, there is a strong argument to be made – notwithstanding the belligerent jingoism of the Canadian mainstream media, especially the faltering Postmedia chain – that this kind of thing does precisely the opposite.

Remember, there is a big difference between Russia and many of the countries of the world that have come up against the might of Washington and NATO proxies like Canada. The Russians have the means to credibly defend themselves, and their supply lines are very short while our soldiers are thousands of miles from home, patrolling a few hundred yards from the Russians’ border.

Our best hope in such circumstances, it would seem, is that the Canadian-led NATO battle group right on Russia’s border is there as a nuclear trip wire in the event of a Russian attack, acknowledged by NATO’s leaders to be highly unlikely. They certainly could not stop an all-out Russian attack, if it came, a fact the U.S. Army commander in Europe admitted in June. Lieutenant-General Frederick “Ben” Hodges said it would take the Russians less than 36 hours to overwhelm the Baltics if they chose to do so. Surely this can’t be very comforting to the Canadians stationed there.

Are we really comfortable putting our country’s fate in the hands of a 67-year-old military alliance that’s desperately looking for a new raison d’etre in a much-changed world, and is apparently willing to roll the nuclear dice to find it?

We certainly know what the Americans would do in the same circumstances as the Russians now find themselves, because they did it in 1962. Arguably, the Russians are showing considerable restraint in comparison.

As noted in the last post on this topic, this has the potential to be a particular problem when, given the rapprochement between Russia and Turkey and the resulting diplomatic gains made by the Russian government on its southern flank, there is a real possibility NATO’s senior soldiers and diplomats will get up to mischief in the north.

If we’re only doing this, as some observers have cynically suggested, to justify the purchase of American designed and built weapons under NATO’s notorious requirement that member nations spend 2 per cent of their GDPs on armaments – a policy that emphasizes only expenditures and neither efficiency nor strategy – we might want to consider dialling it down. Looking out for the only remaining healthy industrial sector in the U.S. economy doesn’t really seem like a very good reason to risk nuclear annihilation.

Still, NATO has a new $2-billion headquarters building in Brussels to which we have all contributed, yet another strangely underreported story, so I suppose it’s too much to ask that it go the way of the Warsaw Pact, its Soviet era counterpart created six years after NATO and disbanded a quarter century ago in the wake of the collapse of the Soviet Union.

At the very least, one would think, Canada should be using its leverage in NATO to get the alliance to act with restraint – including when it comes to recruiting new members on Russia’s borders and recognizing any great power has interests in its region – thereby making the world a safer place, instead of a more dangerous one.

Instead, the latest thing we’ve heard is that Canada will be playing a bigger role in these activities while Europe’s nations focus on the real security threats they face, including the refugee crisis spawned in part by NATO’s last round of adventures in North Africa and the Middle East.

This is not very reassuring – especially for those Canadians who supported Mr. Trudeau’s Liberals in hopes of seeing a change in more than tone and image after the dark, jingoistic days of the Harper Government.

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13 Comments to: Part II: If there’s no Russian threat in the Baltics, why is Canada so enthusiastic about a new Cold War there?

  1. August 19th, 2016

    I think because there is promise of it being quite? Canada didn’t elect this post, we were asked to go by NATO and accepted.

  2. John kolk

    August 19th, 2016

    Dave seems like you might be a bit blind to Russian strategy on this one

  3. The Red Tory

    August 19th, 2016

    Peace in our time, right David?

    The pure fact of the matter is that the ice-in-their-veins, KGB types who run Russia are in it for the long run, and have the stated desire to rebuild the “glory” of the Soviet Union. Whether it takes them 50 years and happens small bites at a time, it is still their unambiguous plan to increase the size and thus power of Mother Russia.

    These nations that border Russia don’t need to be recruited to join NATO, they are clamouring at the door to get in. Why, because they remember what life was like on the cold side of the Iron Curtain and don’t want their children or grandchildren to have to do the same.

    • Kang the barbarian

      August 20th, 2016

      Those would be the eastern Europeans who almost unanimously took part in the Nazi pogroms against the Jews in the 1930s onwards. Stalin was much too kind to them. They were never justly punished for their crimes and should have been happy to remain a neutral buffer between Europe and Russia, just as Regan and Gorbachev agreed. They deserve little sympathy from us now.

  4. Val

    August 20th, 2016

    yeah sure, Russia through all history was a pigeon of the peace, example of democracy and prosperity.
    wouldn’t go deep in past but just last quarter of century of post soviet era:
    1990 – 1992 Transnistria war
    1992 – 1992 war in of Prigorodny district
    1993 – 1993 Stand-off between the Russian president and the Russian parliament that was resolved by using military force
    1994 – 1996 russian troops invaded Chechnya (first Chechen war)
    1998 – 1998 war in Abkhazia
    1999 – 2009 second Chechen war
    2007 – present, insurgency war in Ingushetia
    2008 – 2008 Russia invaded Georgia
    2009 – present, insurgency wars Chechnya, Dagestan and other parts of the North Caucasus
    2014 – present, Russia invaded Ukraine
    that’s only the list where russian troops involved directly but can be extended by conflicts, which are supported and financed by Russia indirect.
    as for “top-soldier”… only the time will show who’s writing the checks for him.
    Gerhard Schroder also was “top”, which didn’t prevent him to seat at chair of the head of shareholders committee at “Gazprom” immediately after stepping down from post of chancellor of Germany.

    • anon

      August 20th, 2016

      you will note those are interior to greater Russia. A similar list of American interventions would be external to the US. This is simply great power behavior – ugly yes. Sticking our noses and troops in as blood sacrifices – no.

      • Val

        August 20th, 2016

        we have Quebec with quite strong nationalism movement. could you justify bombing of Montreal, if finally the population of Quebec decided to split from Canada and form independent state?
        all those ” internal to greater Russia” regions in the past did have own states. many of them even after centuries of terrible oppression, genocide and mass deportation didn’t fell under kremlin’s attempt to assimilate them and still live with a dream for independence from oppressor.

        Alaska at some point was part of Russia.
        could you accept and justify annexation of Alaska if Kremlin tomorrow will move there russian troops?

        Finland in past was part of Russia as well as Poland. that’s reason enough for you to see them annexed by Russia?

        the NATO was established on free will for purpose to confront such behavior in the past and seems still this necessity still actual today.
        i won’t go into depth on present military policies and actions of US and join ventures of NATO but would like to point out – none of them targeted on conquest and absorption of foreign countries with purpose of physical increase of own domain.
        the only main players in this field today is Russia, China and Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant.
        turning blind eye on one would encourage all others to do the same even on greater scale.

        • Kang the barbarian

          August 21st, 2016

          A false analogy. The Russians sold Alaska. Europe is more interesting. You are confusing ethnic communities, which have existed for centuries with nation states concocted over the last couple of hundred years.

          Great powers really do not want to allow ethnics to have their own states – this is just an ugly fact of life. Putting our people in as blood sacrifices will not change that.

          Canada’s solution is better. Quebec can leave any time it clearly votes to do so, but the R.O.C. might then want to reconsider its gift of Rupert’s Land in 1930 to Quebec – just as Russia has reconsidered its gift of the Ukraine east of the Don River to the western Ukraine and did reconsider its administrative gift of Crimea in the early 1960s. Did Russia do this because of the failure to honour the deal NOT to expand NATO into Eastern Europe? I would think that is a big part of their motivation.

          The other error of your analogy is none of the founding ethnic groups in Canada engaged in the Nazi pogroms of the 1930s and 1940s as the east European communities did. In my view this disqualfies them from any right to statehood, then and now.

          As to your splitting hairs on the history of the US. I would consider annexing the natural resources of another community or country by force or stealth as not much different than simply sending in the troops, which the US has also done on several occasions overseas and with the annexation of the Mexican areas of California, Texas, Arizona, and New Mexico.

          Canada is a small country and our national interests are not served by becoming entangled in great power contests. Sweden has successfully done so for at least 400 years so that is not a bad model to adapt to our situation.

  5. Keith McClary

    August 20th, 2016

    Our Ukrainian ethnic nationalists (Chrystia) would like to send Canadian troops to eastern Ukraine, bur saner heads have prevailed, so we appease our Russophobic Ukrainians with this relatively harmless boondoggle in the Baltics. I’m sure the Russians understand.

  6. TENET

    August 20th, 2016

    When the Berlin Wall crumbled, it was not followed by a wave of democratic reform. What followed was the rise of gangsters with political and military power. NATO troops are parked at the base of a rumbling volcano. And, there is nothing reassuring about a blow hard like Trump leading a herd of frenzied electors representing 40% of American electors. The ground is trembling and ash plumes are rising right here at home. Putin’s gangs or Trump’s hordes? One wall went down and another is being touted by Trumpeters. I am not clear where the real threat is.

  7. jerrymacgp

    August 20th, 2016

    Let us not forget that until the end of the First World War, the three Baltic states had been incorporated into the Tsarist Russian Empire, and remained part of Russia after the two revolutions in 1917. They were ceded to Germany in the March 1918 Treaty of Brest-Litovsk, then became independent states during the turmoil in Eastern Europe that followed the end of the war. They were then reoccupied by the Soviet Union in June 1940, right about the time of the fall of France to Nazi Germany, and were formally incorporated into the USSR in August of that year. When Hitler turned around and violated his non-aggression pact with Stalin by invading the USSR in 1941, the Baltic States became part of the battleground of the Eastern Front. When the Second World War was over, the Baltic States remained part of the USSR, and remained so until its dissolution in 1991.

    What this brief historical review means, is that Russia has long coveted the Baltic States, much longer than just the existence of the USSR, and so there is always a risk of Russian aggression against them. Whether they will act on that impulse remains uncertain, but the risk is there. NATO troops in the token numbers that have been deployed can only act as a tripwire deterrent, telling Putin that if he does move on the Baltics, he is taking on much more than those three tiny states, but the entire NATO alliance, with all that implies. Is that going to be enough? Only time will tell.

  8. Werner

    August 21st, 2016

    “Amateurs talk about tactics, but professionals study logistics.” – Gen. Robert H. Barrow, Commandant, United States Marine Corps

  9. Val Jobson

    August 23rd, 2016

    In possibly unrelated news, Kenney is at a conference in the Ukraine, tweeting that he visited the “Holdomor” memorial to victims of the “Communist planned famine”.


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