bne IntelliNews -
Lithuania will reintroduce military conscription because of "changes in the geopolitical situation", President Dalia Grybauskaite announced on February 24.
The announcement followed a meeting of the country's State Defence Council. It is part of efforts in the Baltic region to raise defence capabilities as Lithuania, Latvia and Estonia eye events in Ukraine with rising fear over Moscow's imperial ambitions.
Lithuania suspended conscription several years ago, opting for a professional army. However, it should be reintroduced in light of the changes in geopolitical situation, Grybauskaite said after the meeting.
"We must reinforce the country's defence capacities. Under new geopolitical circumstances, the army must be properly prepared for the country's armed defence even in times of peace," the president said, according to Baltic News Service. "Today's geopolitical situation requires that we strengthen and speed up the manning of our army. Therefore the State Defence Council has decided that it is necessary to temporarily, for five years, reintroduce compulsory military draft."
Under the proposal, compulsory military service would apply to men between the ages of 19 and 26. The plan is to draft between 3,000 and 3,500 men each year. Exemptions would apply to university students, single fathers, men with health issues or otherwise unsuitable for military service.
Lithuania, and Grybauskaite in particular, has been perhaps the feistiest of the three Baltic states in pushing to free the region from Russian influence, and calling for a hardline stance from the EU and West on Moscow's involvement in the war in Ukraine.
To no little extent that is due to the fact that Lithuania has a freer hand in dealing with Russia. It is the one Baltic country that does not share a long border with Russia proper, although it does border Russia's Kaliningrad Oblast exclave. It also has a relatively small ethnic Russian minority.
Latvia and Estonia on the other hand both have large minorities. Moscow has spent years complaining that they face discrimination and a lack of rights.
The Russian air force has been increasingly active in the area, pushing Nato to scramble its warplanes off its Estonian base several times. Russian navy vessels have also regularly encroached into Estonian waters.
All three Baltic countries have been pushing to increase military capabilities in response. They have also welcomed the raised Nato presence in the region.
At the same time, Vilnius has led efforts to push back Russian interests in the region. It fought a bitter fight with Gazprom over recent years to free its gas networks. That led Lithuania to launch an LNG platform at the start of the year - the first non-Russian gas supply in the region. It is now pushing to use the facility to challenge Moscow's dominance of the Latvian and Estonian gas markets.
It also helped lead efforts to get former president Viktor Yanukovych to sign Ukraine up to an association agreement with the EU. The breakdown of that deal led directly to the crisis still unfolding.
While Moscow appeared fairly relaxed in the face of the campaign to challenge it in the Baltic gas market - which at consumption of 4mn-5mn cubic metres per year is tiny - it has not held back on the political issues. The run up to the EU meeting in November - at which Yanukovych backed out of the EU deal - prompted Russia to extend punishing trade bans and customs regimes against Lithuania's vital dairy and transport sectors.
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