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Latvian National Guard: Aizsargi and Zemessardze 1918-1940, 1991-

Left: Latvian Aizsargi Organization badge, left Latvian National Guard emblem

Left: Latvian Aizsargi Organization badge, left Latvian National Guard emblem

On August 23 1991 after failure of Soviet coup attempt Latvia fully restored independence and yet to had begun the restoration of the national armed forces. It was the same situation as in 1918 when the Republic of Latvia was founded – the new nation needed auxiliary paramilitary organization to create order in the new state and defend it against any threat possible. It had serve in every district to preserve state order and help in case of emergency. So Latvia had to create National Guard.  August 23 known in Latvian history  for the Molotov – Ribbentrop pact in 1939 and Baltic Way demonstration in 1989  also became known as the founding day of National Guard in Latvian Zemessardze – “the Landguard”. In many ways they were predecessors of first Latvian National guard the Aizsargi  in Latvian “defenders”, “guardians”. Here is a short survey about both paramilitary organizations, one that played crucial role during first independence and one  that is having crucial role in our national defense.

Members of 9th Madona aizsargi regiment Tirza company

Members of 9th Madona aizsargi regiment Tirza company

Latvijas Aizsargu Organizācija – The Latvian Guards Organization 1918-1940

The collapse of Russian Empire sparked the rise on national independence movements in all Northern and Western parts of former empire. First who founded a paramilitary forces similar to Aizsargi where Fins in 1917. Finland had made tradition of partisan warfare against Russians during Swedish-Russian war when Finland became part of Russia. Large numbers of Fins before 1917 Russian revolution served in imperial German army and afterwards returned to Finland to form guard units to fight for independence, they became part of the new Finland army commanded by general Gustav Mannerheim.  The organization was called Suojeluskunnat – (Protection/Defense corps) known in English as White Guard. In Poland the organization was called Riflemen’s Association (Związek Strzelecki)  based on roots of Jozef Pilsudsky Union of Active Struggle and made from Polish rifleman within Austro-Hungarian army they also made the core for the new Polish army, created a system of military schools and supported the Pilsudsky authoritarian regime.  In Estonia the organization was called Kaitseliit, similar organization was also made in Lithuania.

In Latvia the idea of forming paramilitary organization was made in 1918 by Latvian Minister of Interior Affairs Miķelis Valters in December 16 when he asked all local municipalities to create communal guard squads that would be loyal to the Provisional government. It was needed action however as Bolshevik invasion took and Provisional government abandoned Riga no quick steps were made. On March 20 1919 Provisional government issued “Rules about guardian units in parishes” to create auxiliary police in the country side. At first the enlistment was based on old social class rules and objectives for each member was accustomed to his social level. However, as more territories were liberated from the enemy and were affected by the mobilization all was left in them was old men and very young lads. Interior affairs ministry then removed the social class limitations and made requirements that all men from 18 to 60 years must join the local guard. At first local guard was not entirely auxiliary, but was rather a state imposed practice to install order in rural areas.

The state of war was canceled on February 7 1921, but in border areas was not canceled until October 15 1932. There was no reason now for a compulsory guards organization. The early guards mainly did the police function in areas and did not took part in military actions and did not made the core for Latvian army. During the War for Independence there was other semi-Auxiliary Military unit the Landeswehr  (landguard) that was made mainly from Baltic German volunteers and during war switched sides three times, first served with Latvian army, then fought against it and then was again taken under Latvian control. However, this military unit that took direct part in frontlines is not considered as  root for Latvian national guards. It was disbanded soon after war ended. Latvia needed to form new guard organization that would be based on auxiliary principles.

Latvian Guards Organization or Aizsargi was based on Finnish White Guard. Also the name Aizsargs – defender, guardian was inspired by Fins. Latvians before WW2 viewed Finland as example for Latvia. Finland and Estonia had largest National guard with highest member count. Finland guards had 100 000 members 6,7 % of population, while Estonia 60 000 – 11% of population. Latvian Aizsargi had 45 000 members 3,6 % of population. Contrary to modern national guards, the Aizsargi besides defense and law function also had social and cultural function. Aizsargi had own private property the Aizsargi house where social and cultural gatherings and military courses took place. Such houses were built-in many parts of Latvia. Aizsargi had own libraries and many other extras. Aizsargi was not just paramilitary unit it was mass organization playing high social role in the region. The most members of Aizsargi where from country side and small towns. As their prestige increased it was joined by more people from major cities and higher classes. The organization received funding from Interior Affairs ministry. For some time the state support in Estonia and Lithuania was significantly higher than in Latvia. After authoritarian coup in 1934 the state increased its support. On 1926 state gave 212 503 lats while in 1938 it was now 600 000 lats worth of state support.

Aizsargi also served as partners for Latvian army. During War for Independence around Madona and Jēkabpils the aizsargi served as the “green army” and engaged in partisan warfare against the Bolsheviks. Large numbers of Latvian army veterans after the war joined the Aizsargi. As 60-70% members had military experience the organization became increasingly militant. The new regulations allowed gun carry and keeping guns at home, single variant uniforms, berets and badges and later even medals were introduced. Aizsargi became a second army with rights to practice sport, host events, practice cultural work, organize courses and lectures and raise charity.

Aizsargi were organized in military system – regiments, battalions, companies, squadrons, platoons and detachments. Smaller units acted within the parish borders, while regiments along the districts. Latvian aizsargi 19 regiments. The commanders usually were police chief district with deputy for military matters that usually was officer from the army. The organization was led by experienced military officers like general Ludvigs Bolšteins  (1925-1928) lieutenant colonel Augusts Tone 1928-1930 and general Kārlis Prauls (1930-1940). Independence war veteran general Jānis Balodis served as honorary chairman. While in other countries the guards were subordinated to defense ministry in Latvija aizsargi where subordinated to Ministry of Interior Affairs. Aizsargi had small air units made to educate and prepare pilots. The aizsargi had 28 aircraft mostly biplanes  and 3 sea divisions. There was also railroad support units. Only during late thirties the government started to mechanize aizsargi by making bicycle and motorcycle  units  and gave heavy automobiles and tankette’s.

Aizsargi Air force Gourdon-Leseure (GL-21)

Aizsargi Air force Gourdon-Leseure (GL-21)

At first the society was still skeptical about aizsargi and their role and mission. They had to move from compulsory wartime country police units to organized paramilitary society that functions for the state and society. On 1926 the Latvian Aizsargi Organization gathered in their first congress to discuss the future of the organization and create charter to control and organize the movement. The congress and the new charter was positively regarded  by the society and politicians. Organization started to grow attracting more members. During parliamentary period the aizsargi gained friends and enemies from the political parties. The leftist Social Democrats were always skeptical about giving state funding and fought against their politicization. Another factor that Latvian Social Democratic Workers party also had its own paramilitary organization The Defender and Sport of the Worker (Strādnieka, Sports un Sargs – SSS) nicknamed the locust’s this organization in strength of 1000  members and divided in five battalions and 24 companies were made to defend social democrat demonstrations against radical nationalists and communists and often engaged in street battles. They were armed with low caliber weapons and wore blue color uniforms and had raised right fist salute “Ready to be Free!” as opposed to “Ready to Fight” raised left hand salutes by their nationalist counterparts. The SSS and aizsargi obviously had a rivalry as majority of aizsargi were Latvian ethnic nationalists with only small share of Jewish, German, Russian or Polish members. Also its core members were countryside farmers opposed to social democrat workers and landless peasants therefore they became favorited by Latvian Farmers Union and other right-wing parties. Over the years the Farmers Union gained greater prominence over aizsargi gaining more friction from the social democrats. Meanwhile the SSS and aizsargi also had paramilitary rival organizations like the Zionist Betar and Baltic German youth organizations. While Zionists were loyal to the state, the German paramilitary groups became influenced by Nazism from Germany and became dangerous to the state. As democracy went into decay more radical Latvian nationalists took example and formed Thurdercross movement that tried to be paramilitary party and influence the aizsargi.

May 15 coup 1934 - aizsargi gathers near their headquarters in celebration of the coup

May 15 coup 1934 – aizsargi gathers near their headquarters in celebration of the coup

In situation of economic crisis and political rivalry the aizsargi chose to support Kārlis Ulmanis authoritarian coup in May 15 1934. Kārlis Ulmanis promised the aizsargi leadership increased state support, giving them special status above other citizens. Aizsargi who were present in every district were crucial for the coup to gain control over crucial buildings and arrest all who oppose. The rival social democrat SSS was caught off guard and arrested without a fight. German Nazis and Latvian radical nationalists were also unable to resist. As both Latvian army and Political (Secret) Police accepted or even supported the coup it was bloodless and took place without much interference.

Aizsargi became the new Kārlis Ulmanis Praetorian guard. Their role in civil control increased and they also served as role in ideological control and education. The organization became more bureaucratic and authoritarian and became submitted to the president that became the supreme leader of the organization. From 1936 the president title belonged to Ulmanis and so aizsargi were under his full control. The organization became privileged class as it became the only society in Latvia with right to bear arms and wear uniform. Aizargi members received social and financial benefits. Aizsargi received extended rights to acquire residential property. In next 5 years aizsargi build many clubs, stadiums and other buildings. It had its own major newspaper. The state propaganda regularly praised aizsargi and covered their work. From now on Aizsargi were special state elite much praised and appreciated within the society.

Aizsargi of 8th Valmiera regiment from the right: Kārlis Liepiņš, Pēteris Ulmanis and Jānis Grīnbergs

Aizsargi of 8th Valmiera regiment from the right: Kārlis Liepiņš, Pēteris Ulmanis and Jānis Grīnbergs

However, as the strategical and political situation of Latvia worsened the role of aizsargi became crucial and sadly was wasted. Aizsargi were forced to accept the Latvian – Soviet mutual assistance pact in October 1939 that allowed Soviet garrison in Latvia. Unable to question the Kārlis Ulmanis government’s decisions they were forced to accept the new situation and try to convince the fellow countrymen there is no danger to the independence. Officially the regime pretendent that Latvia is neutral and there is no danger of war, however in case of war the army and aizsargi will still be able to defend Latvian people. On 1940 the Latvian Aizsargi organization had 31 776 members – it was sharp decrease caused by disappointment over governmental actions. The state mobilization plan now just made aizsargi as part of Latvian army only with its own weapons. On June 17 1940 Latvia was in danger of Soviet invasion. The Latvian Aizsargi Organization was still in larger numbers than Latvian army, it was made of patriotic men ready to defend their country. In theory they might produce a prolonged military struggle and partisan warfare against the Soviets. But, their weak point was their leader. Aizsargi were taught to obey the orders of leader Kārlis Ulmanis without question. Kārlis Ulmanis ordered not to resist and signed death sentence to aizsargi, to Latvian Army and to his country. Aizsargi showed no resistance. On June 23 1940 the new Soviet power disbanded the organization. The commander of aizsargi general Kārlis Prauls was sentenced to death and shot in January 30 1941. Many of the senior members and all commanders were deported to Siberia. The story of aizsargi came to sad ugly end during the German invasion in 1941 when Germans assigned the ex aizsargi members to Latvian Auxiliary Police battalions that took part in defense operations, front line battles and punishment expeditions. On 1944 July 22 when Germans needed all the Latvian support to defend the Eastern front the Latvian Aizsargi organization was officially restored. However on January 1 1945 it formally ceased to exist. Germans were encircled in western Latvia, there was no hope for restoration of independence. Aizsargi had made their role as preservers of state order and national symbol, but failed to defend their country.

Latvian National Guards at the parade

Latvian National Guards at the parade

Latvijas Republikas Zemessardze – Latvian National Guard

In 1991 the Latvian government seeking to separate from Soviet Union again had the same issue as of 1918. There was no Latvian Armed Forces, there was major presence of Soviet Armed forces, attacks by the Soviet special force OMON causing victims. The government again needed paramilitary force. First seeds of new national guard was January 1991 when Riga was under threat from Soviet reactionary forces. Barricades were built do defend the main governmental buildings and among the barricade guards many civilians were armed with guns. In case of Soviet attack they were ready to resist with they had. Fortunately the January 1991 turned out less bloody than in Lithuania, however as the threat still stayed the need for new national guard was being discussed.

Only after the failure of the soviet coup attempt on August 21 1991 when Latvia became fully independent and recognized by Russia itself the order for new national guard was issued. On August 23 1991 the new law about Latvian National Guard the Zemessardze was issued. Zemessardze means landguard. The law stated that national guard is auxiliary military civilian self-defense unit. In few months 17 000 volunteers gathered creating 35 territorial battalions.  It was crucial time as police, army, border and rescue services were under restoration.  Every each of them required assistance. Criminality skyrocketed, bandits gained weapons from abandoned Soviet military bases, contraband was on the rise. The new national guard was again crucial to create civil and state order. The early national guard was poorly equipped, had no single uniform. As time went buy the national guard became more organized. Contrary to their predecessors the national guard is part of Latvian Armed Forces and subordinated to the ministry of defense. They don’t have the same rights for property as aizsargi did, nor they can keep weapons at home. This limitation is seen for many as obstacle and was introduced do accustom National guard to the NATO standarts. Also modern-day Latvia has strict gun control laws. On 1992 the youth organization – The Youth Guard or Jaunsargi was established.

Currently the National Guard has 8000 members, in 2015 1210 people joined voluntary. National Guard is divided in 3 regions that each holds at least five battalions. National Guard also have cyber warfare unit, special unit against weapons of mass destruction. National guard uses Carl Gustav m/45 SMG rifles, Heckler & Koch G36, Heckler & Koch G3,  FN MAG G3, RPK, rifles. It has anti air artillery and low caliber field artillery. National Guard has its own distinct insignia and badges and uniforms. The commander-in-chief is brigadier general Leonīds Kalniņš. The goals of the national guard is defend the country, take part in international operations, assist guest military units, preform sapper duties, take part in disaster relief and fire emergencies, and take part in cyber defense.

zemessardze

Today’s National Guards suffer from issues of state funding, recruitment problems, also the support from society is not as high as it was before WW2. However, the Latvian Aizsargi organization before the WW2 was different unit. It was a large organization with private property and self funding, while National Guard is part of Latvian Armed Forces and serves as crucial support unit. One thing remains that the main goal of both organizations is to defend the country and its people. On August 20 during National Guard parade the president of Latvia Raimonds Vējonis said crucial words – during foreign invasion every national guard, soldier and common must defend his country without waiting for orders from commanders in chief. This is in contrary of 1940 when Latvian Army and Aizsargi was in trusting subordination of inept, passive dictator unable to issue orders for resistance. Today Latvia again feels the danger from the same neighbor in the east. Now Latvia has strong allies, but still the ultimate power lays in hands of the Latvian people and their military.

Selected Sources:

Butulis. Ilgvars. (2011) Sveiki Aizsargi. Rīga. Jumava

http://www.zs.mil.lv/lv/Par%20Mums/Vesture.aspx

 

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Latvia and the NATO

The Logo of the NATO summit in Riga 2006

The Logo of the NATO summit in Riga 2006

When the North Atlantic Organization was established by the main western powers on April 4 1949 Latvia was part of the Soviet Union. Since NATO was made to defend the Western Europe and US from possible Soviet invasion no doubt that in case of war Latvia would become a battlefield. During the Cold War years Latvia was filled with Soviet bases and NATO gathered intelligence about them. Until the very end many of the NATO leaders could not imagine the collapse of the opposing Warsaw Pact Union and the Soviet Union. The question became open to the western leaders – what to do with former Eastern European satellite states and the Baltic States? Integrate them in the NATO? Or leave under the Russian influence? But, the answer for many of the Eastern European countries and the Baltic States was clear- we want to join NATO! The process of joining was difficult  because of protests from Russia and Latvian readiness for such step. And the responsibility of being a NATO member in this fast changing unstable world is even more challenging.

On January 1991 during the Barricade movement the Latvian government started to form a legislation for own armed forces. The past Latvian Army in 1918-1940 was in great memory for many, but it was unable to defend its homeland in the most critical moment. Mostly because of lack of foreign support, lack of unity between the Baltic states and the cowardice of the ruling politicians. The first national armed unit of the restored independent republic was the Latvian National Guard (Zemessardze) made right after the breakdown of the coup in August 1991.   NG is a basic land component, consisting of volunteers who perform traditional national guard duties such as crisis response and support for military operations. It consists of 3 regions of National Guard.

First Latvian soldiers on 1991

First Latvian soldiers on 1991

On September 10 1991 a law of compulsory military draft was made to form new Latvian armed forces. The Latvian men from age of 19 to 50 had to fulfill a military duty. On November 13 1991 the Ministry of Defense was formed. Before the WW2 the ministry was officially called the Ministry of War. First Minister of Defense was Tālavs Jundzis who before that served as the chief of the commission of the defense and interior affairs.   In the same time the vitally important Latvian Border Guard was also formed. On January 21 1992 the main Joint Headquarters (NAF) was formed to take command of all land, sea and air units. All other headquarters of navy, air defense and border guards were subordinated to the main command.  The first commander-in-chief was colonel Dainis Turlais.

The Coat of Arms of the Latvian National Armed forces

The Coat of Arms of the Latvian National Armed forces

On November 4 1992 the law regarding National defense and armed forces was made. Latvian military was officially named the National Armed Forces (Nacionālie Bruņotie Spēki NBS). The structure of the NBS changed many times. The Land Forces (Sauszemes spēki SZS) consists of Headquarters HQ and Signal Company 1st Infantry Battalion 2nd Infantry BattalionFire Support Battalion Combat Support Battalion. Latvian Naval Forces (Latvijas Jūras spēki LJS), Air Force (Latvijas Gaisa Spēki LGS), Latvian Special Task Unit (Speciālo Uzdevumu Vienība SUV) and the Military Police. There are active 4,763 active duty personnel in the NAF. 971 in SZS,  552 in LJS, 10,642 voluntary national guardsmen with 1,284 officers and 1,945 non-commissioned officers in the Latvian National Guard. There are 1,288 civil employees serving in the NAF. From 2005 Latvia switched from institutional draft to professional army.

The cooperation with NATO begun shortly after the founding of the new Latvian military. On 20 December 1991, NATO founded the North Atlantic Cooperation Council (NACC) to collaborate with potential partners. Latvia also participated in the NACC foundation session, thus becoming a Member State of the forum.
In 1994, Latvia joined the programme “Partnership for Peace” established in the same year, which gave the possibility to take advantage of consultations of NATO civil and military specialists, their support and practical assistance in development of the defence system. In 1995, the participation in the “Partnership for Peace” programme also allowed Latvia to get involved in the NATO Planning and Review Process that, in subsequent years, facilitated compliance of the Latvian National Armed Forces with those of NATO Member States.

The joining NATO meant that Latvia had to make many changes in its laws and policy. From 1992 to 1994 Latvia had tough time of managing the withdrawal of the Russian army from Latvia. The ex-Soviet soldiers now part of the Armed Forces of the Russian Federation were still in their bases and many refused to leave. Latvian delegation managed to achieve that all ex-Soviet bases including the top-secret sites are evacuated. Russians destroyed most of their military objects and made unusable for the Latvian army. After the last Russian soldier left Latvia (not including the retired officers and their families) the Latvian government set path to join EU and NATO. Many amendments were made including the Citizenship law that caused a failed referendum to cancel these changes.

Latvian Armed forces also had to prove themselves in the International operations. From 1996 to 2009 Latvia joined the Peace Keeping operations on Bosnia and Herzegovina. On 1999 Latvia sent its soldiers to join the peace keeping  mission in Kosovo the KFOR. Latvians left on 2009. 17 soldiers, 13 Military reconnaissance experts and four staff sergeants was stationed there during the mission.

On 23―25 April 1999, at the NATO summit meeting in Washington, USA, NATO suggested Latvia and the other eight candidate states to elaborate a Member Action Plan (MAP) for participation in NATO by reflecting the entire preparatory process and measures for the participation in NATO therein. MAP would permit the states to receive additional consultations, support and practical assistance from NATO Member States. On 21 November 2002, at the meeting of NATO Heads of state in Prague, Czech Republic, Latvia and six other candidate states were invited to join NATO. This marked the beginning of the last stage for Latvia for becoming a NATO Member State, which took place on 29 March 2004.

The reasons for invitation only in 2002 is linked with the change in the global policy. US started a “Crusade against terrorism” and needed more supporters for their actions. Russia who was actively acting against the Baltic States joining in NATO, after September 11 seemed for friendlier to US than before.  However, Russia again became more hostile after US invasion in Iraq on 2003. But, it was too late to prevent the full integration of Eastern Europe and the Baltic States. The borders of NATO had extended to Russian borders making Russians to adopt the “encircled fortress doctrine” that stated that Russia is surrounded by the western powers and needs to defend itself from the foreign influence. The so-called “orange revolutions” in Georgia, Ukraine and Kyrgyzstan where liberal forces managed to overthrow the pro-Moscow autocratic regimes made Russian leaders believe that NATO is against them even more. As Russia again experienced economic boom due to the rising oil prices, Russian military started a revival and power demonstration.

Meanwhile Latvia joined the ISAF mission in Afghanistan on 2003. Latvian soldiers were already sent under the Soviet lines on “International Duty” to Afghanistan from 1979 to 1989. However, they were sent mainly against their own will. This time the participation in the mission was voluntary and paid. So far Latvia has sent 144 soldiers and the mission still continues. Latvians operate in Kabul, Mazar-i-Sharif and Meymaneh. So far three soldiers have been lost. Latvians were and are involved in heavy firefights with the Taliban insurgents. Now Latvians are mostly involved in training the Afghanistan Defense forces. The US, Norwegian and other partner state military has praised their Latvian colleges for their courage and discipline.

Latvian soldiers in Afghanistan

Latvian soldiers in Afghanistan

Latvia officially supported the US invasion in Iraq when other NATO states such as France and Germany did not. First soldiers were sent to Iraq on August 2003. Latvian troops were initially deployed to Kirkuk (under U.S. command) for a year, then transferred to Camp Charlie in Al Hillah, followed by Camp Delta in Al Kut. Finally, the Latvians were stationed at Camp Echo in Ad Diwaniyah where they conducted external security patrols. During their final posting, three Latvian soldiers were killed in action. On June 18, 2007, all but 7 of Latvia’s 125 troops left Iraq. Four of the remainder left within two weeks, leaving three officers who participated in intelligence analysis and operational planning from July 2007 onwards. The last three Latvian soldiers concluded their mission on November 8, 2008.

Latvian army specialists were also involved in military conflict in Macedonia on 2003, Latvian military observers were sent to Georgia on 2008. Latvian government officially sided with Georgia, during the war with Russia. The Prime Minister of Latvia Ivars Godmanis joined others western leaders and went to Tblisi during the war action. From 2011 Latvian naval specialists are involved in action against the Somalian pirates. On 2013 Latvian military instructors were sent to Liberia to help instructing the Liberian armed forces. And the latest ongoing mission with the Latvian troops on the ground is Mali where Latvia has sent officer and instructor.

Important aspect of the Latvian NATO membership is national security. The Article V is the most important for Latvia. This committed each member state to consider an armed attack against one state to be an armed attack against all states. This would mean if for instance Russia would attack Latvia it would trigger full NATO-Russian war. Optimists see this as a full-time guarantee for the Latvian security. Pessimists remind that in case of such event the nuclear weapons would have to be used and NATO would give up the Baltic States to escape nuclear war. What they forget that because the gigantic amount of the nuclear weapons made by both sides in the past would meant a total destruction and make these weapons useless for achieving victory. So nuclear weapons are mostly used as power demonstration and diplomatic argument. And the other important issue is that the Russian nuclear arsenal has been outdated and downsized by the many nuclear disarmament treaties. The Russian nuclear forces also can be destroyed in pre-emptive strike with using conventional weapons as concluded by many Russian military experts. Therefore in case of NATO-Russia conflict Russia may only be able to threaten others with their nukes not actually use them. And is Russia wiling to doom itself for the sake of the Baltic States if loosing few thousand conventional troops would be more cheaper.

French fighters in NATO Baltic Air Policing mission

French fighters in NATO Baltic Air Policing mission

The NATO guarantee for Baltic States security so far is Baltic Air Policing. Its NATO air defence Quick Reaction Alert (QRA) in order to guard the airspace over the three Baltic states Estonia, Latvia and Lithuania. The NATO jet fighters are stationed on Zoknia airfield at Lithuania. The Latvian main air force base at Lielvārde so far is not sufficient for modern NATO aircraft. Various NATO countries including Germany, France, Portugal, Poland and others have sent their fighters to do routine flights across the Baltic States. Their daily routine is sometimes interrupted by Russian Tu-95 bombers and fighter planes who for some reason heads to close to Baltic air space or even enters it. During the past decades Russians have sent their heavy strategical bombers on regular flights. In many cases they dare to violate the NATO airspace. Its a Russian power demonstration, however most of these bombers are built during the Soviet era and are outdated. While Russian air force is still in large numbers and pose a significant threat its suffers from outdated aircraft and accidents. Russians still face heavy problems in releasing new aircraft’s and  rockets. Numerous test accidents were widespread during the Soviet Union, but no the Russian military simply cannot hide it.

The main threat for the Baltic State security is the military inequality between the member states. Also the US foreign policy during the Barack Obama administration have shifted from Eastern Europe towards the Middle East and Asia. However, in recent two years its apparent that the American “reset” policy has failed. Russia is wiling for more confrontation with US and NATO. The reasons for this is the downsizing Russian economy and falling popularity of the Vladimir Putin regime. To divert the national attention from domestic issues the Russian government blames the US, NATO and EU for its failures. Also Russia is interested in keeping the Middle Eastern conflict hot as possible to keep the oil prices up at high level. Since the main profit for Russian economy goes from oil and gas exports, Russia is interested to keep the oil prices high as possible at the expense of the Middle Eastern peace. And also the Russian paranoid belief that all the democratic opposition is actually a western agents makes them more aggressive towards the west.

With such nervous neighbor, Latvia has irresponsibility kept low military budget for many years. Only in recent times the current Defense Minister Artis Pabriks has openly pushed for adding more funds for Latvian military budget. On 2008 the military budget was 63 000 000 LVL on 2011 93 000 000 LVL. When the new state budget is being arranged the Defense Minister had openly stated that the funding for the defense is still not enough and not reach the NATO standard levels. He even said that the NATO leadership may object the Latvian capability of fulfilling their duty. Meanwhile Estonia spends 249 million euros on defense. Lithuania spends 252.0 million. While it’s not meant as un-patriotic criticism it could bring the situation where in case of emergency Latvia becomes a “white spot” in Baltic State security.

  NATO is also concerned about the Swedish military capability. Russians have even played a war games where they proved they can isolate the Swedish air forces in case of war in the Baltic States. Sweden has also neglected its defense for some time and stands as fragile ally. With the US military action looming in Syria, Russia has become even more nervous and some war hawks have even called for invasion in the Baltic States in case of US strike on Syria. While we may view these as empty threats its clear that Russia is no longer a stable neighbor. For Latvia the Putin regime is more desirable as long its controls its military rhetoric and economy to stable level. However, Latvia must also keep off the “soft power” this regime makes.  Awareness of danger posed by authoritarian neo-soviet thinking that Moscow tries to import even in the rooms of the parliament must be eminent. The worst case scenario the Russian regime drift to extreme military policy or the complete civil disorder is the main reason why Latvia and other NATO states should do everything to improve their security.

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