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Lithuania to boost defence spending after Ukraine crisis

Source: Reuters - Fri, 28 Mar 2014 17:48 GMT
Author: Reuters
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VILNIUS, March 28 (Reuters) - With the Ukraine crisis raising concerns in the Baltics, Lithuania will bring its military spending in line with NATO requirements of 2 percent of gross domestic product by 2020, up from 0.8 percent of GDP planned for this year.

Lithuanian politicians from the ruling coalition and the opposition will sign a declaration to boost military spending on Saturday, as the country celebrates 10 years since it joined the alliance, the government said on Friday.

The move is seen as largely symbolic, as the small Baltic nation contributes only about 0.4 percent of NATO's total military budget but relies on the alliance for its defence.

"In the context of the Ukrainian events, Lithuania understands it can expect help from NATO if it is needed," Prime Minister Algirdas Butkevicius said in an emailed statement.

"But we must not only rely on the alliance, but spend more on military ourselves", he said, adding spending would be increased gradually over the next five years.

The small Baltic state has cut defence spending, as it was pursuing other priorities, especially during the 2009 crisis when it was forced to cut retirees' pensions to avoid default.

But fear of Russia, its former ruler, with the headquarters of Moscow's Baltic sea fleet situated in the neighbouring Russian enclave of Kaliningrad, is changing priorities once again.

Russian President Vladimir Putin has said he sees no reason to undertake any further action beyond annexing Ukraine's Crimea peninsula. But he has also said he reserves the right to protect Russian-speakers and compatriots if they are in danger.

Nonetheless, nine out of 10 people living in Lithuanian towns believe the danger of a Russian attack is real, despite the NATO protection, a Prime consulting/Veidas poll published this week showed.

Retail chain Maxima's sales of long-lasting cereals have increased by a third since Russia annexed Crimea. Part of this is likely due to people preparing supplies for war-time shortages, a spokeswoman said.

"Quite often I hear U.S. senators, including John McCain, complaining to me: 'We'll do everything for your defence, don't worry about it, but have you done everything for your defence?,' Zygimantas Pavilionis, Lithuania's ambassador to the United States told LRT television.

"There is no free lunch, you have to pay for everything, including your freedom and independence." (Reporting by Andrius Sytas; Editing by Alistair Scrutton and Alison Williams)

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