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Politics Latvia offers Canada help in ‘likely’ election interference

The Deputy Prime Minister of Latvia, a country regularly targeted by Russian disinformation campaigns, is offering to help Canada address foreign meddling in this country’s upcoming federal election.

Artis Pabriks, who is also Latvia’s Defence Minister, is visiting Ottawa where he will meet with Defence Minister Harjit Sajjan.

Latvia is the location of Canada’s biggest deployment right now. More than 600 Canadian Armed Forces members are in the Baltic state where this country has led a multinational battle group for the North Atlantic Treaty Organization since 2017.

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The Latvian deployment is part of a significant buildup of NATO member country troops and assets on the western military alliance’s easternmost flank, prompted by Moscow’s annexation of Crimea in 2014 and its support for pro-Russian militants fighting a war with Kiev in Eastern Ukraine.

Canada’s leadership of the battle group in Latvia represents this country’s largest sustained military presence in Europe in over a decade.

Latvia is also home to the NATO Strategic Communications Centre of Excellence, which was set up to counter the information war being waged by Russia.

“If Canada needs any advice as far as information campaigns, I think it would be very smart to call the NATO Centre for Excellence for Strategic Communications,” Mr. Pabriks said.

He said other Western countries have been consulting with the centre, based in Riga.

Both Foreign Affairs Minister Chrystia Freeland and the Communications Security Establishment, one of Canada’s spy agencies, have warned that it’s very likely foreign actors will try to interfere in the federal election, expected to take place in October.

Mr. Pabriks said Latvians are very grateful for the presence of allies, including Canada, in his country, which he said sends a signal that Moscow will not be allowed to destabilize any more countries in Eastern Europe. He said the thousands of NATO troops deployed across the Baltic states remind Russia of Article 5 of NATO’s founding treaty, which says an attack against one member shall be considered an attack on all.

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“This is about liberal democratic values,” he said. “We are willing to stand for these values – even with arms.”

The Deputy Prime Minister, who himself was the target of Russian hackers as recently as two months ago, said the most insidious goal of Moscow’s foreign meddling is to sow doubt and skepticism.

“It’s not a question of turning votes to the right or left. They simply want to sow doubts,” Mr. Pabriks said, adding a primary goal of disinformation campaigns is to reduce societal trust and cohesiveness so people are more cynical and more likely to turn against one another.

Prime Minister Justin Trudeau last year announced an extension of Canada’s NATO deployment in Latvia until 2023.

Mr. Pabriks said he believed the NATO deployment in the Baltic states has deterred Russia from making another territorial grab like it did in Crimea.

“They [Moscow] know this would initiate something much larger, so I think yes.”

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Ms. Freeland said in April that she believes Canada is going to be targeted by disinformation campaigns designed to rattle Canadian elections.

“I think our judgment is interference is very likely and we think there has probably already been efforts by malign foreign actors to disrupt our democracy,” she said.

“What I think we’re seeing is something that is happening in many liberal democracies. The effort is not so much to secure a particular outcome in an election,” she said. “The effort is to make our societies more polarized and to make us, as citizens of democracies, more cynical about the very idea that democracy exists and that it can work.”

With a report from The Canadian Press

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