Sweden will send 'reduced battalion' to join Canadian-led NATO force in Latvia

  • Canadian Press

OTTAWA — Sweden’s prime minister says his country plans to join a Canadian−led NATO brigade force in Latvia.

In a speech Monday to a national security conference, Ulf Kristersson said his government intends to contribute a reduced battalion.

Battalion forces are typically up to a thousand soldiers, while brigades are usually between 3,000 and 5,000.

NATO allies have agreed to scale up eight existing battle groups in eastern Europe to brigade−size forces.

Canada leads a group of 10 other nations in Latvia and last year pledged to add a Leopard 2 tank squadron to the force.

Sweden and Finland asked to join NATO after the full−scale Russian invasion of Ukraine began in early 2022, following decades of neutrality.

Finland was confirmed as a member last year but Sweden’s bid to join is still awaiting final approval by Turkey and Hungary.

The battle group in Latvia was set up in 2017 and has 1,700 soldiers, about 1,000 of whom are Canadian.

Canada has plans to more than double its presence in Latvia by 2026 to 2,200 persistently deployed troops. It is already Canada’s largest international deployment.

Latvian defence minister Andris Spruds posted on X, formerly known as Twitter, on Monday to thank Sweden for its contribution.

"We are pleased with this important decision, which, together with the upcoming admission of Sweden to NATO, will become a significant investment in strengthening regional security and the defence of Latvia," he wrote.

Kristersson also said in his speech that Sweden will spend another 27 billion Swedish kronor on defence this year to meet the NATO target of spending two per cent of GDP on defence.

"Defence expenditure will have doubled between 2020 and 2024 — and with greater resources comes a greater responsibility to use them effectively. Defending Sweden in war is our defining task," he said, according to an English text of the speech posted online by the Swedish prime minister’s office.

Turkey’s foreign affairs committee approved Sweden’s bid to join NATO last month but it still needs to be greenlit by Turkey’s general assembly and signed off by President Recep Tayyip Erdogan.

All existing members of NATO must agree before a new country can join the alliance.

Turkey and Hungary both withheld approval for Sweden last July when leaders from all 31 nations gathered in Lithuania for its annual summit.

It is not clear when ratification may happen in Hungary. Some critics have alleged that Hungary is using its potential veto power to get concessions from the European Union.

Hungarian officials have said repeatedly that their country will not be the last NATO member to endorse Sweden’s bid, but the government has not indicated what they may need from Stockholm to move forward.

Turkey’s opposition to Swedish membership in NATO stemmed from its concerns that the Nordic country has been too soft on supporters of Kurdish militants and other groups deemed to be security threats.

Sweden has strengthened anti−terrorism laws to address security concerns and pledged to change customs arrangements and take steps to implement visa−free European travel for Turkish citizens.

Last month, Erdogan linked Sweden’s NATO membership to Ankara’s efforts to purchase U.S.−made F−16 fighter jets and also called on Canada and other NATO allies to lift arms embargoes on Turkey.

U.S. President Joe Biden’s administration backs Turkey’s F−16 request but within the U.S. Congress there is strong opposition to selling arms to Turkey. Turkey wants to buy 40 new F−16 fighter jets and modernization kits for its existing fleet.

This report by The Canadian Press was first published Jan. 9, 2024.

— With files from The Associated Press

Sarah Ritchie, The Canadian Press