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Latvia reinstates military conscription amid alarm over Russian aggression

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New members of the Latvian National Guard attend basic military training camp near Daugavpils, Latvia, on July 8, 2022.

PHOTO: REUTERS

RIGA, LATVIA (NYTIMES) – Latvia is reinstating compulsory military service, its defence ministry said on Monday (July 11), a move underscoring how Russia’s invasion of Ukraine has fanned alarm in nearby countries and altered Europe’s security calculus.

Latvia, a small Baltic nation of about 2 million people, scrapped military conscription in 2007. But the defence ministry, saying that the war had changed its defence considerations, announced that conscription of men ages 18 to 27 would be phased in over five years.

The “security implications of the Russia-Ukraine war have led to numerous new challenges,” Artis Pabriks, the country’s defence minister, said in a statement. “To overcome them, we need to boost our combat capabilities.”

Latvia’s decision to reinstate military conscription comes after Finland and Sweden decided to abandon decades of neutrality and apply to join Nato, underlining how President Vladimir Putin’s invasion of Ukraine has served to unite and reinforce European defences.

The implications of the war have been felt acutely in the Baltic states of Latvia, Estonia and Lithuania, three former Soviet republics where fears have grown that Putin is seeking to turn the clock back and reclaim Russia’s lost sphere of influence.

The Baltic states are all members of the European Union and Nato today, but memories of Russian subjugation run deep in the countries, which were extinguished as independent nations by Stalin in 1940 and incorporated at gunpoint into the Soviet Union.

Both Lithuania and Estonia already have mandatory military service. Since the invasion, all three Baltic states have pressed Nato for larger permanent deployments in the region.

Latvia and Estonia border Russia. Kaliningrad, a Russian enclave, is sandwiched between Lithuania and Poland. The countries each have sizeable Russian-speaking minorities. During the Soviet years, tens of thousands of Latvians fled the country or were deported, while Russians were sent to the country by Moscow.

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