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Russia’s neighbor Latvia wants to bring back the military draft because it fears Russia will attack so quickly that NATO can’t help, defense minister says

Members of Latvia’s National Guard attend a shooting exercise during basic military training camp near Daugavpils, Latvia.

REUTERS/Ints Kalnins

  • Latvia, which borders Russia, wants to bring back the military draft in light of Russia’s war on Ukraine.
  • Its defense minister told Insider Latvia must be ready for a Russian attack, including one with little warning.
  • He said Russia could attack so suddenly that NATO would not be ready for it.

The defense minister of Latvia wants to reintroduce mandatory military service so his country can defend itself in case Russia launches an attack so sudden that NATO can’t help prevent it.

Latvia — a NATO and EU member state that borders Russia — ended the mandatory service in 2007.

But earlier this month, Defence Minister Artis Pabriks announced plans to re-introduce the service for 18-to-27-year-olds after Russia’s invasion of Ukraine, saying it was a necessary step for the country to “survive.” Latvia’s president said he also supported the move. 

In an interview with Insider this week, Pabriks, who is also Latvia’s deputy prime minister, said that more citizens need military training because the country is expecting an attack from Russia.

He said Latvian intelligence suggested a Russian attack could come with little warning, meaning NATO’s defenses might not be prepared to stop it.

A map showing the border between Latvia and Russia.A map showing the border between Latvia and Russia.

Google Maps/Insider

“Even if we are a NATO member country, our first challenge and danger is coming from a very quick attack from Russia,” Pabriks said.

“We have been of course calculating how many forces Russia can gather at our borders within 24 or 48 hours. And knowing that NATO will need a certain time to reflect on that, we must be ready ourselves to defend every inch and every centimeter of our territory.”

NATO’s charter says that an attack on one member state is treated as an attack on all, meaning other nations would come to Latvia’s defense.

But Pabriks said Latvia — which was occupied by the Soviets before declaring independence in 1990 — needs to considerably boost its own defenses as an Russian attack is so likely.

“We are ready to do anything to not repeat our bitter history lessons of when the Soviet Union occupied us,” he said.

“We cannot afford to appear weak. We must be strong. We are not scared and we’re simply vigilant, ready, because we’re not going anymore to live under this foreign rule and this occupation like our ancestors.”

Latvia's Defense Minister Artis Pabriks in a castleLatvia’s defense minister, Artis Pabriks, in England in February 2022.

Alberto Pezzali/Associated Press

Service starting next year

Introducing mandatory military service still needs approval from the country’s parliament and new legislation. 

Pabriks expects to this to pass, and said it could happen this year — meaning the first 500 people could enter the service in January 2023.

These first people would volunteer as part of the plan’s first phase, and eventually all Latvian men aged 18 to 27 would be required to do 11 months of service.

The 11 months would be made up of three months of basic training, three months of a specialty course, and five months of “integration into units and collective training.”

They would also receive a monthly salary of “up to 400 euros, free food and accommodation in army barracks,” the defense ministry said.

Pabriks said he also believes the plan is popular among most of the population.

NATO troops in armoured vehicles on muddy groundNATO troops gather during military exercises in Adazi Military base in Kadaga, Latvia, Tuesday, March. 8, 2022

AP Photo/Roman Koksarov

Expecting an attack

Pabriks said Russia’s invasion of Ukraine proved the need to bring back mandatory military service in Latvia.

He said Latvia believes that regardless of whether Russia wins or loses in Ukraine, “Russia will remain an unreliable neighbor with imperial ambitions for the next decade.”

Ukraine, like Latvia, was previously occupied by the Soviet Union, and Russian President Vladimir Putin has claimed that Ukraine is rightly part of Russia as a justification to invade.

“This means Ukraine gives us time to prepare,” Pabriks said. “While Ukrainians are fighting, I am sorry to say, we have a chance as Latvians and as Europeans to prepare.”

People dig graves in Bucha, Ukraine, on April 5, 2022.People seen digging graves in Bucha, Ukraine, on April 5, 2022.

REUTERS/Zohra Bensemra

Pabriks said the service would both bolster Latvia’s military so it could fight a Russian attack, and also act as a deterrent to Russia’s plans.

“Russians are not crazy. They will see we are ready to defend,” he said.

“And secondly, if the disaster happens, then we would have enough forces to stand for our freedoms.”

In terms of what kind of attack Russia could make, Pabriks said “anything could happen, because this imperial country never gave up these ambitions.”

Latvian President Egils Levits speaks to Latvian troops in camouflage gearLatvian President Egils Levits speaks to Latvian troops during his visit to Adazi Military base in Kadaga, Latvia, on March 8, 2022.

AP Photo/Roman Koksarov

Russia has so far made vague treats against the Baltic countries, of which Latvia is one. In April, Russia said it would put nuclear weapons in the Baltic region, and Estonia has said that Russia was simulating missile attacks against it.

Latvia’s neighbors have also stepped up their defenses over Russia’s invasion of Ukraine: Sweden and Finland applied to join NATO, Finland plans to build barriers along its Russian border, and Estonia and Lithuania increased military drills.

Pabriks said that when his country brings back the military draft, he can’t see it ending again as it did 15 years ago. 

“The Rubicon is crossed,” he said. “We will not drop it anymore.”

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