Lithuania to reinstate conscription amid Russia fears

Vilnius (AFP) - Lithuania announced on Tuesday it would return to limited conscription later this year as concern mounts over Russian military exercises near NATO Baltic states.

"We must temporarily renew mandatory military service," President Dalia Grybauskaite told reporters. "The current geopolitical environment requires us to enhance and accelerate army recruitment."

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VILNIUS, Lithuania (AP) — Lithuania will restore compulsory military service for young men as tensions in Ukraine continue to worry the small Baltic nation, the government said Tuesday.

After a meeting of military leaders and top government officials, President Dalia Grybauskaite said the measure was necessary because of "growing aggression" in Ukraine.

Military officials said Lithuania will reinstate national service for five years starting in September, when it will enlist some 3,000 men, ages 19 to 27. They will serve for nine months.

The country has some 15,000 troops — down from nearly 39,000 it had before joining the alliance in 2004 — and has no military aircraft or tanks.

Gen. Jonas Vytautas Zukas, the defense chief, said a shortage of soldiers endangers national security.

"The geopolitical situation has changed (and) the professional (military) service does not receive as many soldiers as Lithuania needs," Zukas said. "The lack of soldiers is critical and poses a real threat to national security."

Lithuania, like its Baltic neighbors Latvia and Estonia, was occupied for five decades by the Soviet Union before regaining independence in 1991. It abolished conscription in 2008, four years after joining NATO. The alliance has some 150 soldiers temporarily stationed in the country, in addition to a dozen fighter pilots who fly monitoring missions over the Baltic region.

The three Baltic nations have watched with increasing trepidation as Moscow has flexed its muscles, with a recent increase of reported airspace violations in the region where part of Lithuania's border runs along the Russian Kaliningrad enclave with important military bases.

Last month, the Defense Ministry published a booklet advising citizens how to react in case of war, prompted by what Defense Minister Juozas Olekas called "Russia's aggression against its neighbors, presently in Ukraine."