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EU countries increase military spending due to 'growing perceptions of Russia threat': report

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Student assembles Kalashnikov during a military game near Donetsk, Ukraine
Student assembles Kalashnikov during a military game near Donetsk, Ukraine -
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Several countries in Central and Eastern Europe have increased spending on their militaries, largely due to growing perceptions of a threat from Russia, according to a report from the Stockholm International Peace Research Institute (SIPRI).

"In 2014 there was a big change — Russia started being quite assertive," Siemon Wezeman, senior researcher for SIPRI's Arms and Military Expenditure Programme told Euronews.

"Neighbouring countries reacted almost immediately and found spending for defence," which continued through to 2018.

Ukraine, Baltic states, Poland, Romania, Finland and Sweden, among others, all saw increases in expenditure in 2018 for this reason, Wezeman added.

Russia's influence on European countries

Russia's annexation of Crimea in 2014 and the country's internal conflict saw Ukraine's military spending rise, peaking in 2015, he added.

After dipping 2016, this trend picked back up again in 2018, with Ukrainian spending at $4,750 million (around €4,256.8 million), an increase of 21%.

"Baltic states have looked at Russia and thought: 'Are we going to be next?'" he said. Latvia and Lithuania were both among the top 10 countries for their percentage increases in military spending in 2018 with totals of 24% and 18% respectively.

Finland, which shares a border with Russia, and Sweden, a sea neighbour, both saw increases in spending between 2017 and 2018, which Wezeman said were still "very much linked to Russia".

While a perceived threat from Russia remains the most significant influencing factor over these countries, he added that other contributing factors still played a role in European countries' spending, including internal terror threats, interventions in the Middle East and Africa and the "rise of China".

Under pressure from the USA, NATO members also pledged to spend no less than 2% of their national GDPs on defence in 2014, but while countries have "made pledges and first steps", this is all most have done to meet the target, Wezeman said.

Russia's spending drops

Russia heavily influenced spending in some countries, but its own defence expenditure drop by 27% (around €55 billion total spend) between 2017 and 2018, seeing it ranked outside the top five for the first time since 2006.

This can largely be attributed to its economy declining, according to the SIPRI expert, but he cautioned: "This doesn't mean Russia isn't spending more of its GDP on defence than any European countries."

Europe as a whole

Total military expenditure in Europe increased by 1.4% to $364 billion €326 billion in 2018, with five of the world’s 15 largest military spenders located on the continent: France (rank 5), Russia (rank 6), the UK (rank 7), Germany (rank 8) and Italy (rank 11).

It accounted for 20% of global military expenditure, making it the third-largest spending region, behind the Americas and Asia and Oceania.