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Spooked by Russia, Lithuania Is Reintroducing Military Conscription

These new plans would apply to males between 19 and 26, and bring in around 3,500 conscripts a year. The Baltic state is also currently hoping to acquire over 100 light-wheeled tanks.

by Sally Hayden
Feb 25 2015, 6:00pm

Photo by Staff Sgt. Kimberly Bratic

The small Baltic state of Lithuania, unnerved by Russia's actions to its east, will bring back military conscription for the country's young men in the face of what it says is an escalating threat to national security.

The new plans would apply to males between 19 and 26, and bring in around 3,500 conscripts a year. Exceptions would be made for single fathers and university students, among others.

This move is necessary because of "growing aggression" in Ukraine, according to president Dalia Grybauskaite. "Today's geopolitical environment requires us to strengthen the army, and do it as fast as possible," she told reporters.

Lithuania's defense chief Major General Jonas Vytautas Zukas agreed, saying that bulking up the military was necessary to ensure national security. "The geopolitical situation has changed [and] the professional [military] service does not receive as many soldiers as Lithuania needs," Zukas said. "The lack of soldiers is critical and poses a real threat to national security."

Lithuania is also currently bidding to acquire more than 100 light-wheeled "Boxer" tanks from Germany.

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At present, there are about 7,900 professional soldiers in Lithuania's army, then another 4,400 reserves and 2,300 civilians. The move to expansion through conscription, however, must be approved by Lithuania's parliament before it can be implemented. 

Bruce Jones, a defense analyst for IHS Jane's Weekly, told VICE News that this is a reaction to a threat to the Baltic states that "is certainly there." The perception of such a danger has been escalating since Estonia suffered major cyber attacks in 2007 — something the country blamed on the Kremlin, though Russia denied the claims. 

Jones added, however, that the ironic thing about the Lithuanian move is that NATO "advises that countries get away from conscription-based defense because they see the way ahead… is to have small professional armies."

Lithuania's defense spending has traditionally been well below the 2 percent target set by NATO, though the country promised to raise their outlay last year in the face of US pressure. NATO's Baltic air policing mission has its headquarters in Lithuania, and has reacted to numerous air space violations by Russian aircraft in neighboring Estonia.

On Monday, Lithuanian Minister of Foreign Affairs Linas Linkevicius participated in a UN Security Council open debate that focused on "maintaining international peace and security." During the discussion, Linkevicius spoke about the lessons his country has learned from Nazism and Stalinism. He then linked these to what he said was Russia's attempt to redraw the European map by force. 

"The fact that the permanent member of the UN Security Council violates the norms and principles of the UN Charter raises great concerns. Permanent members of the Security Council were granted special status to maintain international peace," Linkevincius told told the Security Council. "Whereas Russia is constantly violating sovereignty of its neighbors. This is obvious in eastern Ukraine, Moldova's Transnistria, Georgia's regions of Abkhazia, and South Ossetia."

During the same debate, Russian foreign minister Sergey Lavrov said the pressure exerted on sovereignty by other international players went beyond the acceptable level necessary for the maintenance of peace and security.

On Tuesday, Lithuanian ambassador to The Hague Darius Semaska tweeted a picture of the Lithuanian president looking down the barrel of a gun.

In January, Lithuania's Ministry of National Defence released a 100-page long publication called Things to Know About Readiness for Emergency Situations. Copies were given to schools, libraries, youth organizations, and NGOs.

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Minister of National Defence Juozas Olekas said that the document was prepared as a reaction to emerging security issues and the public debate that ensued.

According to the summation given on a government website, Olekas also said that the publication included information on ways that citizens could protect themselves during disasters, conflict, or the invasion of hostile forces. It also advises on ways to counter "an enemy that employ methods of the so-called hybrid warfare."

Last year Lithuania, and neighboring Latvia, implemented a ban on broadcasts from Russian state TV broadcasters because of fears that their coverage of the conflict in Ukraine was biased and "aimed to incite discord."

Other countries have also expressed concern for the safety of the Baltic states. "I'm worried about Putin. I'm worried about his pressure on the Baltics, the way he is testing NATO," UK defense secretary Michael Fallon said earlier this month.

Follow Sally Hayden on Twitter: @sallyhayd

Photo by Flickr