Latvian President Says Conscription Needed In Face Of Potential Russia Threat

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Russia’s unprovoked invasion of Ukraine has made the reintroduction of mandatory military service in Latvia a necessity even though the Baltic country is already a member of NATO, President Edgars Rinkevics told Current Time on January 15.

Amid warnings from NATO Secretary-General Jens Stoltenberg and military experts that Russia could pose a real threat to the Baltic states, compulsory military service became mandatory for Latvian men at the start of this year after parliament voted in April 2023 to reintroduce the draft after having abolished it in 2006.

“I have spoken to young men from the first draft, and we all understand that protecting our state will not be possible based on a voluntary basis [military service] alone,” Rinkevics said.

Latvia, together with the other two Baltic states, Lithuania and Estonia, became a NATO member in 2004 following the regaining of independence from Moscow in the waning days of the Soviet Union.

Rinkevics said that Latvia sought membership in NATO because it always feared Moscow could attempt to reannex the three Baltic republics.

“Why are we in NATO? Because we realized from the first days, weeks, months after regaining independence that sooner or later we might face a similar situation, and the idea of a possible threat from Russia has always been in our mental perception,” Rinkevics said.

Under the new legislation, able-bodied men aged 18 to 27 must serve 11 months in the regular armed forces or National Guard.

After completing the compulsory military service, they will become reservists in the National Guard for another five years, where they will have to complete a minimum of 21 days of individual training and a maximum of seven days of collective training annually.

Women aged 18 to 27 can also voluntarily apply for military service.

In parallel with the reintroduction of mandatory military service, Latvia, whose 1.9 million population includes an almost 25 percent-strong ethnic Russian minority, has moved to beef up its domestic legislation against cyberattacks and other crimes against the state.

Government and private sites in all three Baltic states have been increasingly subjected to Russian cyberattacks since the start of the war in Ukraine in February 2022.

According to Microsoft data, Latvia ranks fifth in the number of cyberattacks related to the Russian invasion of Ukraine behind the United States, Poland, Britain, and Lithuania.

Rinkevics said that toughening punishments for such crimes will send a strong signal to the perpetrators.

“Now some punishments for crimes against the state, in my opinion, are inadequate,” he said.

“Monetary fines, community service — well, what kind of community service can a spy do? Will he clean documents in the state security service or somewhere else?

“Establishing a minimum threshold of punishment, which was not specified in the previous version of the criminal law…is a certain signal that the state is paying more attention to this [crime].”

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