There is a foreign land so threatened by its neighbour that it requires Canadian troops to defend it, and so dangerous within its borders, so full of traps and snares, that it isn’t safe for those Canadian troops to leave their bases other than in large, organized groups. The country? No, not Afghanistan (we’ve given up on that), and not Iraq (out troops there aren’t confined to base); not Mali (talk of a Canadian military peacekeeping there has vanished of late); and not Yemen (besides, we support the people bombing that country into smithereens and are selling them armoured vehicles); no – Latvia. Yes, that’s right, Latvia, a country so teeming with danger that Canadian soldiers are forbidden to leave their barracks.
According to the National Post:
As Canada prepares to stand up a multi-national NATO battle group here this summer, army commanders have come up with a plan to prevent their soldiers being exploited by the Kremlin via ‘honey pots,’ ‘gentlemen’s clubs’ and other such temptations…
The plan is for the 450 Canadian troops bound for Latvia as part of a tripwire against Russian aggression to be confined to their base, about a half-hour drive northeast of Riga, for the first few months after they arrive. This is partly because there will be much work to be done before the unit can be declared combat-ready. But there are also grave concerns that Russia will try to undermine the Canadian mission by attacking it with ‘kompromat’ and ‘dezinformatsiya,’ as it has already done with a similar NATO enhanced forward-presence battle group from Germany which is up and running in neighbouring Lithuania.
Even after the newcomers, mostly drawn from 1 Battalion, Princess Patricias Canadian Light Infantry, are certified sometime in August as operationally effective, they will be allowed off base only on ‘supervised cultural days,’ the commander, Lt.-Col. Wade Rutland, said. … ‘There will be no 48-hour weekend passes,’ the colonel said referring to the good old days during the Cold War when Canadians stood watch against the Red Army in Germany.
Ah yes, the ‘good old days’ of the Cold War, when the only danger was the massed ranks of 3rd Shock Army and the possibility of nuclear holocaust. That was clearly so much safer than today, when a Canadian soldier might, God forbid, get drunk in a Riga bar and find his photograph flashed around the Twitterverse by a Russian troll, or perhaps, even worse, might sleep with a Russian ‘honey pot’ and end up naked on Instagram! Our poor little baby soldiers clearly can’t be trusted not to get slammed their first night out of the base and made into targets of dezinformatsiia. They have to chaperoned everywhere like kindergarteners.
And what’s the evidence being used to justify this childish scheme? According to the National Post:
German troops in Lithuania have already been targeted twice by Russian propagandists through what has become known as ‘hybrid warfare.’ Within days of their arrival emails claiming German troops had raped an underage Lithuanian girl were sent to a leading Lithuanian politician and reported on by local media outlets. Police investigated and concluded that there was no evidence at all to support such a claim. More recently a photo-shopped image of the German commander, Lt.-Col. Christoph Huber, appeared on a blog along with the fiction that he was a Russian spy who was ‘not loyal to NATO or to Lithuania, but is a strong supporter of Russian policy.’ … ‘We are taking it very seriously,’ Rutland said. Every effort would be made to keep soldiers ‘on the straight path.’
What do we have here? In the first case cited (a popular story among those touting the theory of Russian ‘information war’), a Lithuanian politician received a single, anonymous email making allegations about German troops. Normally, the response to such an email is to put it in the trash. In this case, though, the politician chose to make a big thing of it, and publicize it as an example of Russian state disinformation. But if he hadn’t, nobody would have heard of it. It was a single, anonymous email! Hardly evidence of a major, state-led campaign. As for the second case, it’s again just a single item – one photoshopped image, which could have been done by anybody, anywhere. And that’s it. That’s the full extent of the Russian intelligence services campaign to discredit the NATO forces in the Baltic states with kompromat. And because of that, Canadian troops aren’t to be trusted to leave their barracks, and have to be kept ‘on the straight path’.
What’s ironic here is that on the one hand, Canadian officers denounce the idea that their soldiers might be ill-behaved as ‘Russian propaganda’, but on the other hand they don’t actually trust their soldiers not to be ill-behaved. Instead, they treat them as if they really are closet drunks who will immediately go out and smash downtown Riga at the very first opportunity.
The National Post continues:
Chief Warrant Officer Michael Forest, who has just spent three weeks in Latvia, is to be responsible for ensuring discipline. ‘We are educating our leadership to look for certain things and to try to avoid those situations where a provocation could happen,’ the sergeant-major said. Because ‘a bright light will be shining on us all the time, we are going to set the conditions through policy. If you go for a pizza there will be a fire team, you will not be alone.’
I wish I’d had that reassurance when I was a Cold War era army officer in Germany. It would have been so nice to have known that I had back up when I went out for a pizza, and that the Sergeant Major was there to advise me when I wasn’t sure whether to order the Hawaiian or the Pepperoni. And it would have been great to have had the ‘fire team’ there to keep me in control less I had a beer too many and mistakenly allowed myself to be seduced by a Stasi agent masquerading as Helga from Bielefeld. At least I can sleep soundly knowing that our brave boys and girls, defending freedom and democracy so far from home, will be tucked up safely in their beds inside their barracks, and won’t have to face that danger as my generation had to before them.