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dated: 2022-11-20 09:25:42 .
RIGA, Latvia – All of Russia’s neighboring countries are currently at risk, according to a senior officer from the country currently receiving Canadian military support.
After last week’s rocket attack on Poland killed two people in the midst of the war in Ukraine, Latvia is reminding the world that it too faces a Russian threat. It shares a 300-kilometer long border with Russia, which it has annexed twice in its history.
That risk of ingestion “cannot be ruled out,” said Col. Didzis Nestro, acting head of the Latvian Army’s land component, in an interview with The Canadian Press last week.
Canada plays a leading role in supporting this Baltic member of NATO. Just over 1,200 soldiers from 10 countries, including 700 from Canada, are training at Camp Adazi as a single battle group defending Latvia. The country’s own regular army numbers around 6,000 members.
“All the wars that Russia is trying to fight, starting with Chechnya, seem to be aimed at regaining access points (from the USSR era and Imperial Russia before that) … and securing access points to the outside world,” Nestro said, speaking in a modest office in a large military complex on the outskirts of the Latvian capital Riga.
“When we circle the Russian border line, we see that almost all countries bordering Russia are at risk in this way,” said Nestro, who is also acting chief of staff for government affairs.
A former territory conquered by the Russian Empire, Latvia had to fight for its independence twice. After becoming a state after World War I, it was annexed by the Soviet Union under Joseph Stalin in 1939. In 1991, during the collapse of the USSR, it re-declared its independence.
“The risk (of annexation) is reduced, (but) we cannot rule out that something will happen,” Nestro said. “That’s why we as a country – and the Alliance in general – have a certain caution against such contingencies because Russia and (its president Vladimir) Putin are unpredictable.”
Latvia is not shy to show full support for Ukraine. The Ukrainian flag is displayed all over Riga, especially on official buildings. Large murals also honor Ukrainians or condemn the past destruction of the port city of Mariupol.
That support remains unwavering despite a deadly incident last week in which a missile believed to have strayed from Ukraine killed two people in a border town in NATO-allied Poland.
“Now we are carefully assessing the situation and then we will draw conclusions,” Nestro said. “But one thing is clear, this is only a consequence of Russian aggression in Ukraine, so let’s see it now.”
Nestro said some of the pressure on border countries had eased since the war began in February, noting that Russia had to deploy many of its military resources on the Ukrainian front. Still, he said, both Russian resources and active threats remain.
There are Russian bases near the Latvian border, some as far as 30 kilometers away, he pointed out. Russia also has an airborne division in Pskov, helicopters very close to the border, and a motorized infantry brigade and special forces, he said.
A senior Latvian official also said that air and naval units in the Baltic Sea still have strike capabilities.
The incident in Poland raises the question of whether something similar could happen in Latvia.
“It’s collective defense – it’s all NATO countries together,” Nestro said. “There are also certain systems that read … notifications and alerts for various threats, including air defense or air attack threats.”
But Latvia’s air defense system has a short range – five to six kilometers – and another system provided by Spain is also limited, Nestro said.
Nevertheless, Putin “must think twice before attacking a NATO country,” Nestro said. Article 5 of the North Atlantic Treaty stipulates that if a member state is the victim of an armed attack, the other members will also be considered attacked and retaliate.
This Canadian Press report was first published on November 20, 2022.
— Patrice Bergeron is a Quebec reporter at The Canadian Press. With two decades of political and informational experience, in 2009 he was a CP war reporter from Afghanistan.
Patrice Bergeron, The Canadian Press
All of Russia’s neighbors are in danger, says the commander of the Latvian army
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