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Latvia president calls for defense spending boost, compulsory military service

“The violation of international law by Russia is the heaviest violation of the international law since the Second World War and international law also provides for reparations,” Latvian President Egils Levits said.

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Latvia may have to increase it defense spending and introduce compulsory military service for its citizens regardless of their gender to contain any possible security risks arising from Russia, President Egils Levits told Reuters.

NATO and European Union member Latvia plans to gradually raise its defense budget to 2.5 percent of gross domestic product by 2025 from around 2 percent now, as it boosts security after its neighbor Russia sent troops into Ukraine in late February.

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Levits, 67, said on Monday that the existing spending plans covered the building of more military bases to accommodate more troops from NATO allies - an increase agreed at the NATO summit in Madrid last month - but that Latvia, a former Soviet nation like Ukraine, may need to spend more.

“Security is priority of our politics today,” Levits told Reuters. “2.5 percent (of GDP) is already committed now but maybe it would not be enough and we should be prepared for that.”

The president of neighboring Lithuania has called on defense spending to increase to 3 percent, after Poland introduced the same target.

Meanwhile, the country’s defense minister, Artis Pabriks, has also raised the prospect of reintroducing compulsory military service abandoned in the mid-2000s.

Levits suggested that the service should cover all citizens irrespective of their gender.

“I think we should have equality in this respect and I support this idea for all Latvian citizens of specific age … this should be done independently of their sex,” he said, as it would allow for a rise in the number of people with military skills in reserve.

Both proposed changes - to military service and any increase in spending - will be reviewed by parliament before taking effect. The defense ministry wants the military service to start voluntarily next year before becoming mandatory from 2028.

Latvia was among the first countries to call on using around $300 billion in Russian state reserves frozen by Western sanctions to rebuild Ukraine and Levits said European lawyers were looking into the ways how to implement it.

“The violation of international law by Russia is the heaviest violation of the international law since the Second World War and international law also provides for reparations,” he said. “We should not allow one state to breach international law without consequences.”

Russia says it is conducting a “special military operation” to demilitarize Ukraine and denies targeting civilians. It calls NATO an “aggressive bloc” but has said it wants to avoid any direct confrontation.

Asked whether he expects any direct conflict between the Baltic states and Russia, Levits said: “No... For the first and the main reason - NATO is capable of defending each NATO member state and there is a very strong political will to do it.”

Read more: More surface-to-air missile systems for Ukraine to fight Russia, US announces

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