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Canada will deploy Leopard 2 tank squadron to NATO battlegroup in Latvia

Anand says NATO enthusiastic about the idea of Ukraine joining when time is right
Defence Minister Anita Anand looks on after making a keynote address at the CANSEC trade show in Ottawa, on Wednesday, May 31, 2023. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Justin Tang

The Canadian Armed Forces will deploy 15 Leopard 2 battle tanks and about 131 personnel to a NATO force in Latvia by next spring, Defence Minister Anita Anand said Friday.

Anand made the announcement from Brussels, where she was meeting with defence ministers from countries that support Ukraine’s efforts to fight Russia’s invasion.

The tanks and support vehicles will come from Gagetown, N.B., and Edmonton.

“There will be 15 Leopard 2 A4M tanks, two armoured recovery vehicles and then a variety of maintenance and fuel and supply and transport vehicles,” Anand said, adding the deployment will consist of a total of 50 vehicles, including the tanks.

The Leopard 2 A4M is one of Canada’s main battle tanks. They have been deployed in Afghanistan in the past and have mine-clearing capabilities.

It’s expected that the equipment will arrive in Latvia by the fall, with the full group of personnel in place by next spring.

Canada already leads a 10-country NATO battlegroup in Latvia, with about 700 Canadian troops.

“We are continually deploying resources there as part of our role as the framework nation of the enhanced forward presence battle group on NATO’s eastern flank,” Anand said.

The military alliance has battle groups in Bulgaria, Estonia, Hungary, Latvia, Lithuania, Poland, Romania and Slovakia in response to Russia’s invasion of Ukraine. Members agreed at the 2022 summit in Brussels to a new model that will involve more high-readiness troops and brigade-size formations in the area.

At the time, Anand announced that she had signed a deal with Latvia to scale up the 2,000-person battle group to a deployment-ready brigade of about 4,000 troops. The details of those contributions have not been finalized, more than a year later.

Canada aims to buy and deploy anti-tank weapons, counter-drone and air defence systems, ammunition and explosives for the effort as part of its commitment, but with the Armed Forces facing a severe personnel shortage, it remains unclear how many additional troops it can commit.

Under a separate program announced last month, Canadian troops in Latvia are now providing junior officer leadership development training for the Armed Forces of Ukraine as part of ongoing support for the country.

Last week, Prime Minister Justin Trudeau visited Kyiv and announced another $500 million in military aid, along with donations of 288 AIM-7 missiles and 10,000 rounds of ammunition.

That is on top of donations from the Canadian Armed Forces inventory of dozens of air defence missiles; eight Leopard 2 tanks and ammunition; an armoured recovery vehicle; four M777 howitzers and 33,000 rounds of associated ammunition; 100 Carl Gustaf M2 rifles plus accessories; 4,200 rocket launchers; and 1,800 rounds of tank training ammunition.

Canada has also donated winter clothing and other personal protective equipment, 640,000 meal packs and more than $10 million worth of small arms including sniper rifles, machine guns, pistols, anti-tank rockets and carbines.

Much more equipment has been procured directly for Ukrainian forces.

While she stressed that the Latvian deployment is not a donation, Anand acknowledged Friday that Canada’s efforts to support Ukraine continue to put a strain on the Armed Forces’ resources.

She said the efforts to replace donations and to buy new equipment for Canadian troops are being guided by Canada’s 2017 defence policy, which is currently under review.

“The threats have changed since 2017, when we put our defence policy into place,” she said.

“For example, we are seeing increased threats from climate change, increased threats from a cybersecurity standpoint. And so what our defence policy update will do is exactly that: update our outlook on defence in terms of how we should be growing, in terms of human resources and capabilities.”

The Defence Department has not yet said when the updated policy will be released, but Ukraine’s defence minister told a group of industry leaders last month that he expects that to happen in July.

Anand said her counterparts at NATO are enthusiastic about the idea of Ukraine joining the military alliance when the time is right.

“For Canada’s part, we support Ukraine’s accession when the conditions are right,” she said.

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