By: David Pugliese, The Ottawa Citizen
As tensions increase with Russia, the Canadian military is pulling anti-tank missiles out of storage and will start distributing them to troops next year.
The Canadian Army had sold off most of its tube launched optically sighted wire guided (TOW) missiles and mothballed a few of the anti-tank weapons, assuming they would not be needed in the future.
But with Canada now stationing troops on Russia’s borders, soldiers will require the weapons to counter the Kremlin’s robust armoured forces, military sources say.
Brig.-Gen. Derek Macaulay, chief of staff for army strategy, confirmed the service is re-introducing the tripod-mounted missile system to all regular force infantry battalions.
“Each battalion will receive its complement of systems with all systems being fielded and deployable by summer 2017,” Macaulay said in a statement to the Ottawa Citizen. “We are not purchasing new systems at this time, but rather re-introducing what we had placed into preservation.”
The TOW missiles are designed to destroy armoured vehicles. Although the army has other weapons to deal with such targets, the TOW system is considered among the most effective. Its missile has a range of about 3,700 metres.
NATO has begun preparations for escalating from the Cold War into a hot one.
Courses for training troops on using the TOW system are now underway at Canadian Forces Base Gagetown, N.B., the army noted.
Macaulay denied the move was related to the increase in tensions with Russia. The re-introduction of the weapons is “not in response to any external influence” but instead a decision to deal with a gap in a capability that is fundamental to how the army operates, he said.
It is not clear why such missiles were removed from service in the first place if they are so critical to how the army operates.
But the initiative comes as Canada and NATO turn up the heat militarily on Russia, prompting some observers to point out the West has started a new Cold War with the Kremlin.
NATO is establishing a more permanent and extensive troop presence on Russia’s borders and is sending thousands of soldiers to the region.
Canada recently announced it would deploy about 450 soldiers to Latvia as part of those efforts. It will also keep a warship in the region and contribute fighter jets at different times to the NATO mission.
Peggy Mason, a former security adviser to the Mulroney government, says the moves by the Liberals are further provoking an already tense situation.
“What we’re seeing is Justin Trudeau and his government continuing with the most disagreeable aspects of Stephen Harper’s foreign policy,” said Mason, president of the Rideau Institute in Ottawa.
“People didn’t vote for that. They voted for change.”
At the same time the Liberal government has appeared to have turned its back on talks with Russia, she added.
Chris Westdal, a former Canadian diplomat who was ambassador in both Russia and Ukraine, has said six months into his mandate, Global Affairs Minister Stephane Dion has not yet met his Russian counterpart.
The West has taken a hardl ine against Russia, prompted by Russian leader Vladimir Putin’s decision in 2014 to annex Crimea, once part of Ukraine. The Russians claim they acted to protect the predominately Russian-speaking population there. Western nations have also denounced Russia’s military support for separatists in eastern Ukraine.
As a result, Western nations, including Canada, brought in economic sanctions against Russia as well as increasing their military presence in the region.
But those actions have only backfired, instead shoring up support for Putin among the Russian people who see NATO as closing in on their country’s borders, Mason argues.
Mikhail Gorbachev, the former Soviet leader who helped end the Cold War and who has been of critical of Putin, recently accused NATO of preparing for offensive operations against his country.
“NATO has begun preparations for escalating from the Cold War into a hot one,” he said. “All the rhetoric just yells of a desire almost to declare war on Russia.”
But NATO’s Secretary-General Jens Stoltenberg denies the alliance is a threat to Russia.
“We do not want a new Cold War,” he said. “We do not want a new arms race. And we do not seek confrontation.”