50 Canadian troops to join NATO exercises in Poland
Prime Minister Stephen Harper says Canada will send soldiers to Poland to take part in NATO exercises amid growing concerns about Russian aggression toward Ukraine.
Harper made the announcement during a press conference in London, Ont., on Friday.
"The Putin regime's persistent military aggression and its ongoing illegal occupation of Crimea and other parts of Ukraine threaten the stability and security of central and Eastern Europe," Harper said.
Approximately 50 troops from the 3rd Canadian Division based in Edmonton will depart Friday to take part in Exercise Orzel Alert in Swidwin, Poland, next week.
The soldiers will "conduct training in parachuting, airborne operations and infantry skills alongside Polish and American counterparts in this United States-led exercise with a view to enhancing Alliance interoperability and readiness," according to a release from the prime minister's office on Friday.
Canada is going to do its part- Foreign Minister John Baird
The move comes just days after six CF-18 fighter jets left Canada to join a NATO mission in Romania and the Department of National Defence announced that the warship HMCS Regina would be redeployed to a NATO group as part of a Ukraine "reassurance mission."
The government also said this week that a Canadian military officer is heading an international arms-control verification team investigating "unusual military activity" in Ukraine, but the inspections won't include the disputed Crimea region, which was annexed by Russia.
The government says this latest deployment, though small, is intended to send a two-part message: That Canada is willing to stand with NATO and that NATO is standing up against Russia.
In Ottawa, Foreign Affairs Minister John Baird concluded meetings with his Dutch counterpart Frans Timmermans at which the NATO reassurance mission was discussed.
"Canada is going to do its part as part of that reassurance package to send a pretty clear message that those NATO bonds and that NATO alliance is strong and should not be misjudged," Baird said.
NATO must send message to Putin
Timmermans said the Netherlands joined in Canada's condemnation of Russian aggression.
"I think it is of the utmost importance that the NATO alliance and its members stand united in saying 'No,' to President Putin and his action in eastern Ukraine," Timmermans said. "I think it is of the utmost importance that we show resolve and commitment to guarantee the security of our NATO partners in central and Eastern Europe.
Among NATO members who were once cloistered behind the Iron Curtain, Poland is one of the most keen.
It has increasingly been a key partner in expanding NATO's influence and security beyond its traditional borders.
In 2013, Poland was part host to a major NATO exercise – it's largest since 2006 – focused on exercising the alliance's response force.
The Canadian Forces has also participated in several other exercises alongside Poland.
With files from The Canadian Press