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5 Jul, 2022 18:45

NATO country eyes U-turn on mandatory military service

Latvia wants to double the size of its military with conscripts to deter Russia
NATO country eyes U-turn on mandatory military service

Latvian Defense Minister Artis Pabriks announced on Tuesday that Latvia would reintroduce conscription for young men and voluntary service for women from next year. Pabriks said that such a measure was necessary to deter “military aggression” from Russia, but the head of Latvia’s army doesn’t support the move.

Pabriks’ plan will be rolled out over five years, beginning with the intake of 1,000 voluntary recruits next January and ending with 7,000 conscripts joining the military every year within five years, the minister revealed on Twitter. Men aged between 18 and 27 will be eligible for conscription, while women of the same age will be allowed to volunteer for service. 

Conscriptions will last for a year, after which the soldiers will be kept on as reserves, and will be required to attend occasional training sessions. 

Latvia is a country of around 1.9 million people, and maintains a small army of around 6,500 active duty troops and 15,000 reserves, according to the Global Firepower Survey. Pabriks stated that once this number is increased to “30,000 - 40,000 military trained people and an international brigade, we will be able to hold our own against a so-called zero warning attack.”

The minister did not elaborate on what he meant by an “international brigade,” a term that could refer to foreign NATO troops or volunteers, as Ukraine has recruited to fight the Russian military.

“Latvian society must accept and be aware of the most important prerequisite for survival,” Pabriks wrote. “The greater the number of militarily prepared and trained population, the less likely it will be that Russia will want to direct its military aggression against Latvia.”

Latvia and neighboring Lithuania have been some of the most vocal supporters of Ukraine and critics of Russia since Moscow launched its military operation in Ukraine in February. Latvia has sent weapons to Kiev and demanded that the West provide Kiev with fighter jets, while its parliament has supported a Western-imposed “no-fly zone” over Ukraine – a move that NATO leadership has balked at, and Moscow has said it would perceive as an act of war.

Pabriks’ conscription plan still needs the approval of Latvia’s parliament, and the minister called on Tuesday for a vote this fall. The measure does not have the support of the military itself, however. When the plan was first floated by Pabriks in January, Chief of the Latvian National Armed Forces General Leonids Kalniņs said the country would be better protected by a professional force.

“If we have created the Latvian State on a voluntary basis, it should be protected on a voluntary basis,” he said.