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Canada considering increasing military presence in eastern Europe: Anand

Click to play video: 'Defence Minister Anand meets Ukrainian counterpart amid tensions with Russia' Defence Minister Anand meets Ukrainian counterpart amid tensions with Russia
WATCH ABOVE: Defence Minister Anand meets Ukrainian counterpart amid tensions with Russia – Jan 31, 2022

Defence Minister Anita Anand says the government believes in the importance of bolstering NATO’s eastern flank in response to Russia’s military buildup, and that discussions are underway around reinforcing Canada’s support in eastern Europe.

Yet the minister, who was speaking on Wednesday from the Latvian capital of Riga — her last stop in a three-country tour that included visits to Ukraine and NATO headquarters in Brussels — declined to say when a Canadian decision could come.

Read more: Canadian forces moving to western Ukraine as tensions mount with Russia

“At the current time, we are considering options to reinforce in eastern Europe,” Anand told The Canadian Press, adding: “We are working with our allies and co-ordinating across the alliance.”

She also did not say specifically whether sending more troops is an option. Her office would not say whether an increased military presence is on or off the table.

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“We are closely monitoring the security situation and are working with NATO allies to determine how best we can continue to support the security of the Baltic states going forward,” her spokeswoman, Sabrina Kim, said in a written statement Wednesday.

Anand’s comments followed a meeting with Latvian Prime Minister Krišjānis Kariņš, just as the United States became the latest NATO member to commit additional forces to the region in response to fears of a Russian invasion of Ukraine.

Click to play video: 'Ukraine-Russia standoff: Canadian defence minister visits Kyiv, discusses aid with counterpart' Ukraine-Russia standoff: Canadian defence minister visits Kyiv, discusses aid with counterpart
Ukraine-Russia standoff: Canadian defence minister visits Kyiv, discusses aid with counterpart – Jan 31, 2022

While Russian President Vladimir Putin has blamed NATO for the tensions, Anand accuses the Kremlin of starting this latest crisis and says it is up to Russia to ease the situation.

Anand says one of her aims while in Europe was to reassure friends and allies that Canada continues to stand shoulder to shoulder with them, even as she consulted on what more is needed in the region.

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Pentagon press secretary John Kirby said 2,000 additional American troops will be deployed to Poland and Germany while another 1,000 will be shifted from Germany to Romania as a demonstration of U.S. commitments to NATO allies.

Denmark, Spain and the Netherlands have also increased their military forces in eastern Europe in recent weeks with the deployment of additional troops, fighter jets and warships.

Canada has had about 600 troops leading a NATO battlegroup in Latvia tasked with defending against any Russian attack since 2017, along with around 200 military trainers in Ukraine, which is not a NATO member.

Read more: Avoid all travel to Ukraine, Canada urges amid tensions with Russia

Prime Minister Justin Trudeau announced last week that Canada was extending its training mission in Ukraine for another three years and will add another 60 trainers as part of a suite of military aid that includes night-vision goggles and armoured vests.

However, Ottawa has yet to respond to Latvian calls for reinforcements from Canada and other NATO allies.

Anand said one of her objectives while in Europe has been to reassure friends and allies that Canada continues to stand shoulder to shoulder with them, even as she consulted them on what more it can do in the region.

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“This is indeed one of the purposes of my trip, to ensure we are co-ordinating across the NATO alliance, and to reassure our allies that Canada is present. And Canada is closely following the situation to prepare for any eventuality.”

At the same time, she described Canada’s current military contribution in Latvia as a “huge deployment.”

Click to play video: 'U.S. sending thousands more troops to Europe as Ukraine tensions escalate' U.S. sending thousands more troops to Europe as Ukraine tensions escalate
U.S. sending thousands more troops to Europe as Ukraine tensions escalate – Feb 2, 2022

Anand’s visit to Europe comes amid stalled talks between the U.S., NATO and Russia over Moscow’s military buildup at Ukraine’s borders, with growing fears across Europe that Russian President Vladimir Putin is poised to invade Ukraine.

Smaller NATO countries like Latvia on the alliance’s eastern flank worry they could be next, although Russia has said it has no intention of initiating conflict and is willing to continue diplomatic efforts.

In his first public remarks on the standoff in more than a month, Putin accused the U.S. and its allies of ignoring Russia’s central security demands.

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Those demands, which NATO has roundly rejected, include promising not to let Ukraine join the transatlantic military alliance and for NATO to withdraw all its forces from eastern Europe. That would include the Canadian-led battlegroup in Latvia.

Read more: Canada will not send weapons to Ukraine, boosting cyber support and training mission

However, Putin also said Moscow is willing to continue talking to ease tensions over Ukraine, suggesting a potential Russian invasion may not be imminent and that at least one more round of diplomacy is likely.

Anand accused the Kremlin of having started this latest crisis by deploying 100,000 troops to Ukraine’s borders, and said it was up to Russia to ease the situation and work toward a diplomatic solution.

“The choice is on the table for Russia to choose de-escalation via diplomacy,” she said. “The security of our NATO allies, including in the Baltics, is not negotiable.”

— with files from The Associated Press

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