Sweden joins Canadian-led NATO force in Latvia

(Ottawa) Sweden’s prime minister says his country is considering joining a Canadian-led NATO brigade in Latvia.

In a speech to a national security conference on Monday, Ulf Kristersson said his government intended to provide a reduced battalion.

Battalion forces typically number up to a thousand soldiers, while brigades typically number between 3,000 and 5,000 personnel.

NATO allies agreed to increase eight existing battle groups in Eastern Europe to brigade size.

Canada leads a group of ten other nations in Latvia and pledged last year to add a squadron of Leopard 2 tanks to the troop.

Sweden and Finland have applied to join NATO following the start of Russia’s invasion of Ukraine in early 2022, after decades of neutrality. Finland was confirmed as a member last year, but Sweden’s application still awaits final approval from Turkey and Hungary.

The battle group in Latvia was created in 2017 and has 1,700 soldiers, including around 1,000 Canadians.

Canada plans to more than double its presence in Latvia by 2026 to reach 2,200 permanently deployed soldiers. This is already Canada’s largest international deployment.

Latvian Defense Minister Andris Spruds posted a message on the social network X on Monday to thank Sweden for its contribution.

“We are pleased with this important decision, which, together with Sweden’s upcoming admission to NATO, will constitute an important investment in strengthening Latvia’s regional security and defense,” he wrote.

Kristersson also mentioned in his speech that Sweden would spend an additional 27 billion Swedish crowns on defense this year to meet NATO’s target of spending 2% of its GDP on defense.

“Defense spending will have doubled between 2020 and 2024 – and with greater resources comes greater responsibility to use them effectively. Defending Sweden in times of war is our defining task,” he said, according to an English text of the speech posted online by the prime minister’s office.

Sweden waiting

Turkey’s foreign affairs committee approved Sweden’s NATO membership last month, but it still needs the green light from Turkey’s general assembly and the signature of President Recep Tayyip Erdogan.

All existing NATO members must agree before a new country can join the alliance.

Turkey and Hungary both refused to endorse Sweden last July when the leaders of the 31 countries gathered in Lithuania for its annual summit. It is unclear when ratification could take place in Hungary. Some observers have claimed that Hungary is using its potential veto power to extract concessions from the European Union.

Hungarian officials have repeatedly said their country would not be the last NATO member to support Sweden’s candidacy. However, the government has not indicated what it might need from Stockholm moving forward.

Turkey’s opposition to Sweden’s NATO membership stems from its fears that the Nordic country is being too lenient toward supporters of Kurdish militants and other groups seen as security threats.

Sweden has strengthened its anti-terrorism laws to address security concerns and pledged to change customs arrangements and take steps to introduce visa-free European travel for Turkish citizens.

Last month, Mr. Erdogan linked Sweden’s NATO membership to Ankara’s efforts to buy American-made F-16 fighter jets. The leader also called on Canada and other NATO allies to lift the arms embargo on Turkey.

The administration of US President Joe Biden supports Turkey’s request for the F-16, but within the US Congress there is strong opposition to the arms sale to Turkey. Turkey wants to buy 40 new F-16 fighter jets and modernization kits for its existing fleet.

With the Associated Press

reference: www.lapresse.ca

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