The Canadian military officer who commands a NATO battle group in Latvia says Russian forces will be routed if they dare to attack Canadian troops and their allies stationed in the Baltic states on Russia’s western border.
“I think we’re going to win by a pretty good margin,” Lt. Col. Enhanced Forward Presence Latvian combat group chief Jesse van Eyck said in an interview Wednesday.
The threat has been lingering against the backdrop of Russia’s invasion of Ukraine, and tensions rose on Tuesday when a missile strike killed two people in Poland, another NATO member. There were initial concerns that the missile had been launched by Russia, but Poland said on Wednesday it was likely launched by air defenses in neighboring Ukraine.
Van Eijk spoke to Canadian media from his humble office in a makeshift building at Camp Adazi, the base of the battle group, in the middle of a forest about a 45-minute drive from Riga, the Latvian capital.
Once part of the Russian Empire and then the Soviet Union, the tiny country has twice had to win independence, most recently in 1991.
More than 1,200 soldiers from 10 countries, including 700 from Canada, are training at Camp Adazi as a unified battle group for the defense of Latvia. Van Eijk believed his troops were better prepared and experienced than their potential opponents.
“People’s expectations are changing,” he said of the fact that Russia’s military is one of the strongest and best equipped in the world.
“The initial impression was that the Russians would be faster, but they didn’t do well because they … sent the message that they were able to do it in Ukraine,” he said. “So, the pace of that operation, if it’s going to materialize, looks really dependent on … what the Russians are actually going to throw at us.”
The commander said his soldiers had undergone rigorous national training and worked hard to integrate into the battle group. He added that they are professional soldiers who have a better understanding of tactics and optimal use of resources than Russian soldiers.
Van Eyck, who has been stationed in Latvia for five months, said NATO has accurate information about Russian troops on the other side of the Latvian border — just 200 kilometers from Camp Adazi — about their readiness and even their day-to-day routines. Activity.
Russia’s war in Ukraine has reduced the level of threat from Latvia, he said. “The amount of resources the Russians are putting into Ukraine right now, and the resources they’re losing in Ukraine, is undermining their ability to do things quickly in this theater,” he said. The Latvian army has come to the same conclusion, noting the weakening of Russian army bases in the region – for example in Pskov.
The Russians remain a threat, van Eijk said. “I think what they’re going to do in the future is really in the hands of President (Vladimir) Putin, but the threat is very real,” he said.
The NATO battle group known as eFP Latvia acted as both a dissuasion and a shield in the event of an attack. It’s bigger than a regular Canadian battlegroup, “a little bit too big,” its commander said, and it has all the equipment it needs.
Soldiers from several countries, including Italy, Germany and Spain, were training in a large area of the Latvian forest on Wednesday. The sound of heavy artillery came sporadically, and in the distance, in a bunker, observers watched with binoculars.
Other soldiers practiced in the tent identifying targets — Russian tanks — and describing their characteristics in a minute.
eFP Latvia held four training exercises in three months involving the entire battle group, an effort that van Eijk described as “amazing”. Soldiers are rotated every six months so they don’t get tired, he said.
He acknowledged that commanding a multinational group was a challenge, but said making sure everyone understood his intentions was ultimately a “people thing”.
The British Columbia native previously served in Afghanistan, spending most of his career with the 1st Canadian Mechanized Brigade in Hilo, Man. Asked what he misses most about Canada, he replied: “Being home.”
That will come soon, as he returns home from his deployment in Latvia in December.
—Patrice Bergeron, Canadian Press