Latvian army chief says Russia’s neighbors are in danger
RIGA, Latvia –
All of Russia’s neighbors are now in danger, according to a senior officer of the country currently receiving military support from Canada.
Following a missile attack that killed two people in Poland last week in the aftermath of the war raging in Ukraine, Latvia is reminding the world that it too is facing a threat from Russia. It shares a 300 km border with Russia, which has annexed it twice in history.
Colonel Didzis Nestro, acting commander of the ground division of the Latvian army, said in an interview with The Canadian Press last week that the risk of being swallowed up again “cannot (not) be ruled out”.
Canada is taking a leadership role in supporting this Baltic NATO member. Just over 1,200 soldiers from 10 countries, including 700 from Canada, train at Camp Adazi as a united fighting group defending Latvia. The country’s regular army has about 6,000 members.
“It seems that all the wars that Russia tends to wage, starting with Chechnya, are aimed at regaining access points (from the previous Soviet and tsarist era) and to protecting those points of contact. close to the outside world.” Nestro said, speaking from a modest office in a large military complex on the outskirts of the Latvian capital Riga.
“If we go around Russia’s borders, we can see that basically all the countries bordering Russia are in danger,” said Nestro, who is also acting deputy chief of staff. responsible for government affairs, said.
Once a territory invaded by the Russian Empire, Latvia had to gain independence twice. After becoming a country after World War I, it was annexed by the Soviet Union under Josef Stalin in 1939. Then in 1991, during the breakup of the Soviet Union, it again declared its independence.
“The risk (of a takeover) has lessened (but) we cannot rule out anything will happen,” Nestro said. “That’s why we as a country – and the alliance in general – have a certain vigilance to face any unpredictable situation because of Russia and (President Vladimir) Putin. is unpredictable.”
Latvia is not afraid to show its full support for Ukraine. The Ukrainian flag is prominently displayed throughout Riga, especially on official buildings. Large murals also pay homage to Ukrainians or denounce the past that devastated the port city of Mariupol.
That support has remained unwavering despite a deadly incident last week in which a missile believed to have strayed from Ukraine killed two people in a border town in Poland, a country NATO ally.
“We are carefully assessing the situation and then coming to a conclusion,” Nestro said. “But one thing is clear, this is just a consequence of Russia’s aggression in Ukraine, so that’s what we see now.”
Nestro said some pressure on bordering countries has eased since the war began in February, noting that Russia has had to deploy a lot of its military resources on the Ukrainian front. . Still, he said, both Russian resources and active threats remain.
He noted that there are Russian bases near the Latvian border, some as far as 30 km. Russia also has an airborne division in Pskov, helicopters very close to the border, as well as a motorized infantry brigade and special forces, he said.
The senior Latvian official also said that the air and sea units in the Baltic still have offensive capabilities.
The case in Poland raises the question of whether something similar could happen in Latvia.
“It’s collective defense – all NATO countries together,” Nestro said. “And there are a number of systems that are reading… the signals and warnings for various threats, including an air defense threat or an aerial attack.”
However, Latvia’s air defense system has a short range – 5-6 km – and another one provided by Spain is also limited, Nestro said.
However, Putin “must think twice before attacking a NATO country,” Nestro said. Article 5 of the North Atlantic Treaty provides that if a member state is the victim of an armed attack, the other members consider themselves to have been attacked and retaliate.
This report by The Canadian Press was first published on November 20, 2022.
Patrice Bergeron is a Quebec-based journalist for The Canadian Press. In addition to two decades of experience in politics and general news, he was also CP’s war correspondent in Afghanistan in 2009.