NATO member Latvia has re-introduced conscription to deter Russia from invading Europe, the country’s foreign minister said.
Compulsory service came into effect at the start of January, just weeks in advance of the two-year anniversary of Russia’s invasion of Ukraine.
Krišjānis Kariņš, Latvia’s foreign minister, said: “We have reintroduced the draft. We’re using that to increase the size of our active and ready reserve.”
All male citizens aged 18 to 27 will be required to complete a year of service, including those living abroad.
Those who refuse to serve could be fined or imprisoned though some exemptions will apply, including for those with health conditions, single parents and dual citizens who have already served abroad.
The move comes amid a broader push by Latvia to boost its defensive readiness by reinforcing its military ranks, expanding reserve forces and restocking its weapon arsenal in light of Moscow’s aggression.
Shoring up defences now is about sending a message to Moscow that Latvia and its European allies have their bases covered, Mr Kariņš said.
“We need to be in such a state of preparedness that Russian generals and the Russian political classes clearly see that the direction of Europe is a no-go,” he said.
The foreign minister said Russia needs to understand that “European defences are completely up to snuff, and that it’s not possible to have any gains without tremendous loss, and to make sure, actually, that no gains would be feasible”.
Baltic Neighbours Build Support On Frontier
Earlier this month, Latvia and its Baltic neighbours, fellow NATO members Estonia and Lithuania, agreed a deal to create a “common defence line” along their borders with Russia and Belarus.
Exact details are still being negotiated, but the agreement will see hundreds of bunkers and other defensive installations built along the frontier.
“Imagine a positive outcome of the Ukrainian war – all Ukrainian territory is liberated and the war ends,” Mr Kariņš said. “But, on that day, Russia still remains a threat.”
Mr Kariņš added: “Right now, I don’t see any direct military threat to any NATO country, and there are many arguments that would say that is a very difficult to imagine scenario.
“But what we are arguing is that just because it’s difficult to imagine doesn’t mean it couldn’t be attempted; therefore, we simply must be prepared.”
“We’re not working from an immediate fear, but a very profound realisation that it is what it is.”
Similar debates over how best to prepare for a potential war are taking place across NATO territory, including in the UK, where there have been recent calls to consider reintroducing conscription.
In Latvia, those called up for service will receive a monthly salary of up to 300 euros and be housed in army barracks. They will be allowed to take up to one month’s leave.
Mr Kariņš said conscripts would be “enmeshed in professional units” in order to learn the required skills and ensure they are “fully equipped” for combat.
Latvia’s plan is to have a combat-ready force of 61,000 troops, split between active troops and reserve units.
Since reintroducing conscription, enough volunteers have stepped forward to serve that authorities have not yet had to exercise random selection to fill the ranks.
Latvia had abolished mandatory service in 2006, two years after joining NATO, only to reverse course on that decision last year.
Neighbouring Lithuania reinstated conscription in 2015 after a seven-year hiatus, provoked by Russia’s annexation of Crimea, while the draft has been continuous in Estonia.
Russia ‘Could Attack NATO Country In Five Years’
Earlier this month, Boris Pistorius, Germany’s defence minister, warned Russia could attack a NATO country in the next five to eight years.
His comments came a day after a top NATO general said civilians in the West should be ready for all-out war with Russia in the next 20 years, and prepared to mobilise if necessary.
Amid the heightened fears of a looming conflict, Latvia plans to increase its defence budget to 3 per cent of GDP by 2027, up from 2.4 per cent this year, and has been steadily building out its military capabilities with deals to purchase air defence and rocket systems from Germany and the US, all while supporting Kyiv’s forces with weapons and training.
“If Russia succeeds in Ukraine, then Russia will have learned the lesson ‘might makes right,’ and they will look to exercise that might further and then to stop them later will cost more money and potentially NATO soldier lives, and this is a situation we never want to come to,” Mr Kariņš said.
“It’s cheaper and much cleverer to support Ukraine as we shore up our own defences,” he said, adding that Russia needs “to run up against the brick wall, and that brick walk needs to be NATO resolve and proven capabilities”.