HELSINKI (AP) — Latvia’s president said Tuesday that he supports a plan to reinstate national conscription for men, and for women on a voluntary basis.
The draft could be reintroduced next year after a hiatus of over 15 years.
President Egils Levits, who is the supreme military commander of Latvia — a NATO member that borders Russia — said in an interview with Latvian broadcaster TV3 that he favors the idea floated by the Baltic country’s defense minister last week to create an 11-month mandatory military service for men aged 18-27 from the beginning of 2023.
“We have really, really good, high-level armed forces, professional armed forces — you could say one of the best in NATO,” Levits told TV3. The conscription, he said, is needed because there are not enough reservists with military training in the nation of 1.9 million.
Latvia abolished compulsory conscription in 2007, switching to a fully professional military service. Levits said the biggest limitation in the country’s current professional military is its small size.
“The new geopolitical situation ... requires a larger number of people who, if necessary, can participate in the defense of their country, and who are not professional soldiers and are reservists,” Levits said, referring to Russia’s Feb. 24 invasion of Ukraine.
He added that “women should also be ready to defend their country” but refrained from saying whether female conscription should become compulsory. Levits also urged officials and politicians to come up with ways to get Latvians living abroad to participate in the defense of their native country.
Under the Latvian defense ministry’s initial, unconfirmed plan, some 1,000 conscripts would be recruited annually in drafts twice a year. The conscription model would be phased in during a five-year period starting next year.
Latvia's Baltic neighbor, Lithuania, abolished compulsory conscription in 2008, but reinstated it in 2016 in response to Russia’s aggression of Ukraine. Estonia, the northernmost of the three Baltic states, has maintained conscription, supported by the Estonian Defense League, created after independence in 1991.
Follow the AP’s coverage of the war at https://apnews.com/hub/russia-ukraine
Jari Tanner, The Associated Press