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Latvia to reintroduce compulsory military service amid Ukraine war

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By AFP  with Euronews
Latvian soldier takes part in a parade during a ceremony to mark 100 years of Latvia's independence in Riga, Latvia, November 18, 2018.
Latvian soldier takes part in a parade during a ceremony to mark 100 years of Latvia's independence in Riga, Latvia, November 18, 2018.   -   Copyright  Credit: AFP

Latvia is set to reintroduce compulsory military service amid growing tensions with neighbouring Russia and the war in Ukraine.

The Baltic country currently has only 7,500 active soldiers and national guardsmen, supported by 1,500 NATO troops.

The new mandate will apply only to men and will be gradually reinstated from 2023, officials say.

"The current military system in Latvia has reached its limits," defence minister Artis Pabriks told reporters on Tuesday.

"At the same time, we have no reason to believe that Russia will change its behaviour," he added.

Latvia abandoned compulsory military service after joining the NATO military alliance. Since 2007, the EU member's army has been made up of career soldiers and national guard volunteers who serve in the infantry part-time at weekends.

Under the new compulsory model, 500 young men will --twice a year -- be offered the choice of 11 months of military service, enlistment in the national guard, or alternative positions with police and rescue services.

The plan to strengthen the Latvian armed forces to around 50,000 active soldiers still needs to be approved by the Latvian government and parliament.

Gatis Priede, a member of the national guard, welcomed the decision as the "best news" that should have been reintroduced after Russia annexed Crimea in 2014.

"This is the right thing to do: to train more reservists for our army and for the overall NATO force, which is still sorely lacking in the Northern Europe and Baltic region," he told AFP.

Pabriks also announced plans to build a military base near the southeastern town of Jēkabpils, which would be closer to the Russian border than the current base in Ādaži.