RIGA - NATO must keep strengthening defense capabilities in the Baltic, signaling to Moscow and Putin that we are "dead serious" about defending ourselves, Latvian Prime Minister Krisjanis Karins (New Unity) said Thursday in a joint news conference with Canadian Prime Minister Justin Trudeau.
The Latvian prime minister said that with practical defense activities NATO must send a message to Moscow and Putin: "Don't even think of taking this path!"
NATO presence should be strong enough to deter Russia from deciding to attack, to ensure Russia had no reasonable grounds to attack any NATO member state, Karins said. The prime minister said that investing in defense is much cheaper than to risk extreme costs which might be incurred in the future unless the investments are made now.
In Karins' words, Russia has shown that it is ready to attack a peaceful country, which means NATO member states must be able to defend themselves. Canada has already provided a "fantastic contribution" to Latvia's defense, and today's decision to further strengthen the Latvia-based NATO Multinational Division Headquarters North is highly important, Karins said.
Canadian Prime Minister Trudeau also underlined that should Russian forces invade even a kilometer of Latvian territory, the whole NATO would mobilize for Latvia's defense under Article 5 of the North Atlantic Treaty. The deployment of Canadian and other NATO troops on the Alliance's eastern flank proves that it is guarded hot only by Article 5 but also the presence of allied forces, Trudeau said.
Since the annexation of Crimea, Russia has shown that its prone to making huge mistakes and bad miscalculations about how democratic countries would respond to its aggression, the Canadian prime minister said, mentioning also the atrocities committed by Russian troops in Ukraine, notably Bucha and Mariupol.
So for the past 75 days since February 24 NATO has been demonstrating that democratic countries are prepared to fight and defend their values, the Canadian prime minister stressed.
Trudeau indicated that there are currently 695 Canadian troops stationed in Latvia and that Canada would send a general and six staff officers to the Multinational Division Headquarters North. They will be part of a unit deployed for the first time in Northern Baltics for the integration of NATO's regional military activities.
Karins said that Latvia, like other Baltic stats, has decided to further increase its defense budget to 2.5 percent of GDP.
Both officials also underlined the necessity to provide continued support to Ukraine.