Sweden to send ‘reduced battalion’ to join Canadian-led NATO force in Latvia

OTAWA –

Sweden’s prime minister says his country plans to join a Canadian-led NATO brigade in Latvia.

In a speech at a national security conference on Monday, Ulf Kristersson said his government intends to contribute a reduced battalion.

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

NATO allies have agreed to expand eight existing battle groups in Eastern Europe to brigade-sized forces.

Canada leads a group of 10 other nations in Latvia and last year pledged to add a Leopard 2 tank squadron to the force.

Sweden and Finland asked to join NATO after Russia’s full-scale invasion of Ukraine began in early 2022, following decades of neutrality.

Finland was confirmed as a member last year, but Sweden’s candidacy still awaits final approval from Turkey and Hungary.

The battle group in Latvia was created in 2017 and has 1,700 soldiers, of which around 1,000 are Canadian.

Canada plans to more than double its presence in Latvia by 2026 to 2,200 persistently deployed troops. It is already Canada’s largest international deployment.

Latvian Defense Minister Andris Spruds posted on X, formerly known as Twitter, 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 become an important investment in strengthening Latvia’s regional security and defense,” he wrote.

Kristersson also said in his speech that Sweden will spend another 27 billion Swedish crowns on defense this year to meet NATO’s goal of spending two percent of GDP on defense.

“Defense spending will have doubled between 2020 and 2024, and greater resources come with greater responsibility to use them effectively. Defending Sweden in war is our defining task,” he said, according to an English text of the speech posted online by the Swedish Prime Minister’s Office.

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

All existing NATO members must reach an agreement before a new country can join the alliance.

Turkey and Hungary denied approval to Sweden last July when the leaders of the 31 countries met in Lithuania for their annual summit.

It is not clear when ratification will occur in Hungary. Some critics have alleged that Hungary is using its potential veto power to extract concessions from the European Union.

Hungarian officials have repeatedly said their country will not be the last NATO member to back Sweden’s candidacy, but the government has not indicated what they might need from Stockholm to move forward.

Turkey’s opposition to Sweden’s membership in NATO arose from its concern that the Nordic country has been too soft on supporters of Kurdish militants and other groups considered security threats.

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

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

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


This report by The Canadian Press was first published Jan. 9, 2024.


With files from The Associated Press

Leave a Comment