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Minister Blair Announces Canada will be Sending Helicopters to Latvia Under Op REASSURANCE

Image:  The Honourable Bill Blair, Minister of National Defence, with Minister of Defence Andris Sprūds. Credit: Twitter/@AndrisSpruds

The Honourable Bill Blair, Minister of National Defence, arrived in Latvia for his first official visit to the country. Minister Blair is accompanied by General Wayne Eyre, Chief of the Defence Staff. Over the coming days, Minister Blair and General Eyre will be thanking Canadian Armed Forces members deployed in Latvia, and meeting with Latvian officials to strengthen Canada’s defence relationship with a close NATO Ally.

Minister Blair held a bilateral meeting with his Latvian counterpart, Minister of Defence Andris Sprūds. Minister Blair and Minister Sprūds discussed the excellent defence relationship between Canada and Latvia, which is based on our shared values as NATO Allies and commitment to defending the rules-based international order that keeps our countries safe. 

Minister Blair reaffirmed Canada’s commitment to significantly strengthen its military presence in Latvia to support NATO’s deterrence and defence efforts. Minister Blair highlighted that Canada is more than doubling its military presence on Operation REASSURANCE – from about 1,000 troops currently to up to 2,200 persistently deployed troops by 2026, as Canada committed in the July 2023 Roadmap on Scaling the eFP Latvia Battle Group to Brigade.

Minister Blair announced several measures to strengthen Canada’s military presence in Latvia, bolstering the security of NATO’s eastern flank. 

• Starting in summer 2024, Canada will deploy four Griffon helicopters to the eFP Battle Group and periodically deploy Chinooks as well, starting fall 2025. This is the first time that Canada has persistently deployed tactical aviation capabilities to Europe since operations in Bosnia and Kosovo in the late 1990s and early 2000s.

• Canada has finalized the procurement of Portable Anti-Armour Missile Systems for our forces in Latvia, including missiles, simulators, and associated supports. These modern anti-tank weapons will better equip our soldiers to confront threats from our adversaries’ main battle tanks, thus strengthening NATO’s deterrence posture. These weapons are being procured on an urgent basis after having been designated an Urgent Operational Requirement. Canada has awarded the Portable Anti “X” Missile (PAXM) on behalf of the Department of National Defence to Rafael Advanced Defense Systems for $32.2M USD. The first of these systems is expected to arrive by mid-2024.

• For the first time ever, Canada has deployed Medium Range Radar capabilities. The Medium Range Radar is the first building block of the air defence capability for the Multinational Brigade. It will provide aerial surveillance for the brigade, as well as quickly and accurately identify air vehicles and munitions. Canada continues to work towards the acquisition of an air defence system for the NATO Battle Group in Latvia, which has also been designated an Urgent Operational Requirement, as we announced in March 2023.

• Minister Blair also noted that a Canadian Army Tank Squadron of 15 Leopard 2A4M tanks, along with supporting personnel and equipment announced in July 2023, recently arrived in Latvia as part of Operation REASSURANCE. The full complement of approximately 130 personnel should be in place by spring 2024. This deployment will significantly boost the eFP Battle Group’s military capabilities and demonstrates Canada’s commitment to implementing the Canada-Latvia Joint Declaration of June 2022.

 

Minister Blair and Minister Sprūds also discussed their shared support for Ukraine. Minister Blair noted that Canada has committed over $2.4 billion in military aid to Ukraine since February 2022, and over $9.5 billion in total aid to Ukraine since that time.

Minister Blair welcomed Latvia’s strong support for Ukraine, and thanked Minister Sprūds for the collaboration between Canada and Latvia to provide Ukraine with military training. The Canadian Armed Forces and Latvian National Armed Forces are providing combat leadership training to members of the Armed Forces of Ukraine as part of a jointly developed program. Since it began in May 2023, this training has been evolving to incorporate lessons learned from the battlefield in Ukraine.

Minister Blair also travelled to Riga Castle for a meeting with the President of Latvia, Edgars Rinkēvičs. Minister Blair noted that Latvia and Canada are close NATO Allies, united through our strong defence relationship and mutual commitment to supporting Ukraine as it defends itself against Russia’s illegal and unjustifiable war.

Minister Blair and President Rinkēvičs discussed current threats to the Euro-Atlantic Alliance and agreed on the importance of strengthening NATO’s deterrence and defence posture. Minister Blair provided an update on Canada’s progress to scale up its military presence in Latvia, backed by Canada’s commitment of $2.6 billion in funding starting in 2023-24, to renew and expand Operation REASSURANCE.

This includes:

• 2.3 million euros for storage for Canada’s main battle tanks at Camp Adaži;

• 3.1 million euros to improve living conditions at the camp; and

• 4 million euros for accommodations and other supports at Ceri—the future headquarters of the multi-national brigade.

• Over 1 million euros to expand real-life support and workspace at Camp Adaži and Ceri. 

Canada and Latvia enjoy an excellent defence relationship forged through our shared values and beliefs as NATO Allies.

“Through our deployment in Latvia – the largest current Canadian military deployment abroad – Canada is making a meaningful contribution to Euro-Atlantic security. The additional measures that I announced today will significantly increase the capabilities of the Canadian-led, multinational battle group in Latvia, further boosting NATO’s defence and deterrence posture. To all Canadian Armed Forces personnel deployed in Latvia: I thank you for your hard work to protect Canada and defend democracy, freedom, and the rules-based international order.”

– The Honourable Bill Blair, Minister of National Defence

ADDITIONAL INFO

• Canada enjoys excellent relations with Latvia. Canada was the first G7 country to recognize the restoration of Latvia’s independence in 1991, and one of the first countries to ratify Latvia’s accession to NATO in 2004.

• NATO is a cornerstone of Canada’s international security policy. Canada believes in and steadfastly supports NATO’s principle of collective defence and is providing direct support to NATO missions and operations.

• Since 2017, Canada has served as Framework Nation for NATO’s enhanced Forward Presence (eFP) in Latvia, leading a multinational battle group composed of ten nations: Albania, Canada, Czechia, Italy, Montenegro, North Macedonia, Poland, Slovakia, Slovenia, and Spain.

• As Framework Nation, Canada is responsible for coordinating with Latvia and the contributing nations to help set the tone, pace, and vision for the eFP, and providing support to facilitate integration as a single entity.

• Canada contributes the battle group leadership, command and control elements, a mechanized infantry company, an artillery battery, a combat support company, an electronic warfare troop, and a combat service support company.

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