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Latvia president calls for defence spending boost, compulsory military service for all

Latvian President Egils Levits speaks during an interview in Riga, Latvia July 11, 2022. REUTERS/Ints Kalnins

Latvia may have to increase it defence spending and introduce compulsory military service for its citizens regardless of their gender to contain any possible security risks arising from Russia, President Egils Levits told Reuters.

NATO and European Union member Latvia plans to gradually raise its defence budget to 2.5% of gross domestic product by 2025 from around 2% now, as it boosts security after its neighbour Russia sent troops into Ukraine in late February.

Levits, 67, said on Monday that the existing spending plans covered the building of more military bases to accommodate more troops from NATO allies - an increase agreed at the NATO summit in Madrid last month - but that Latvia, a former Soviet nation like Ukraine, may need to spend more.

Latvian President Egils Levits speaks during an interview in Riga, Latvia July 11, 2022. REUTERS/Ints Kalnins

"Security is priority of our politics today," Levits told Reuters. "2.5% (of GDP) is already committed now but maybe it would not be enough and we should be prepared for that."

The president of neighbouring Lithuania has called on defence spending to increase to 3%, after Poland introduced the same target.

Meanwhile, the country's defence minister, Artis Pabriks, has also raised the prospect of reintroducing compulsory military service abandoned in the mid-2000s.

Latvian President Egils Levits speaks during an interview in Riga, Latvia July 11, 2022. REUTERS/Ints Kalnins

Levits suggested that the service should cover all citizens irrespective of their gender.

"I think we should have equality in this respect and I support this idea for all Latvian citizens of specific age … this should be done independently of their sex," he said, as it would allow for a rise in the number of people with military skills in reserve.

Both proposed changes - to military service and any increase in spending - will be reviewed by parliament before taking effect. The defence ministry wants the military service to start voluntarily next year before becoming mandatory from 2028.

Latvia was among the first countries to call on using around $300 billion in Russian state reserves frozen by Western sanctions to rebuild Ukraine and Levits said European lawyers were looking into the ways how to implement it.

"The violation of international law by Russia is the heaviest violation of the international law since the Second World War and international law also provides for reparations," he said. "We should not allow one state to breach international law without consequences."

Russia says it is conducting a "special military operation" to demilitarise Ukraine and denies targeting civilians. It calls NATO an "aggressive bloc" but has said it wants to avoid any direct confrontation.

Asked whether he expects any direct conflict between the Baltic states and Russia, Levits said: "No... For the first and the main reason - NATO is capable of defending each NATO member state and there is a very strong political will to do it."

(Reporting by Reuters; Editing by Alison Williams)

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