Russia’s scared neighbors are beefing up their security

Lithuania, a former Soviet republic, is part of NATO.
Lithuania, a former Soviet republic, is part of NATO.
Image: AP Photo/Mindaugas Kulbis
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Russian president Vladimir Putin may be assuring the world that he is working to secure peace in Ukraine and that it is “unlikely” he will wage war with the country, but events on the ground tell the real story. Kremlin-backed rebels ignored a ceasefire, continuing their fight with the Ukrainian army, and Russia refuses to stop carrying out snap military exercises on its territory.

And this is making Russia’s western neighbors nervous.

Lithuania, Latvia and Estonia—all former Soviet republics and NATO members—are adopting new security measures, anxious about Putin’s next move. Lithuania’s State Defense Council, which includes the country’s highest officials, said Tuesday it would temporarily re-introduce military conscription. In 2008, Lithuania suspended the draft, moving toward a professional force. But times are changing, and men between the ages of 19 and 26 will have to serve, bolstering the 15,000-strong Lithuanian army by between 3,000 and 3,500 men a year.

“Under new geopolitical circumstances, the army must be properly prepared for the country’s armed defense even in times of peace,” said the country’s president Dalia Grybauskaite. The bill still has to be approved by the Lithuanian parliament.

All three Baltic states are significantly increasing their military spending. Latvia announced new recruitment efforts, and Estonia finalized the biggest military deal (paywall) in its history in December, buying 44 combat vehicles and six tanks from the Netherlands, totaling 138 million euro. But the Baltics’ higher defense shopping bill—1.2 billion euro—is nothing more than a blip compared to Russia’s defense spending, which amounted to 60 billion euro in 2014.

Poland, which also borders Russia, and is far bigger than the Baltics, announced earlier this month a long shopping list of its own, allocating 33.6 billion euro over a decade on a military upgrade.