Jittery over Russia, Lithuania ups military spending by third

Jittery over Russia, Lithuania ups military spending by third
Lithuanian President Dalia Grybauskaite gives her opening speech during a meeting of the NATO Military Committee in Vilnius on September 20, 2014. NATO's top military commanders are meeting in Lithuania to discuss relations with Russia as fresh efforts to end fighting in Ukraine were launched during talks in neighbouring Belarus.

VILNIUS - Lithuania will increase its defence budget by a third next year amid concerns over a resurgent Russia, but spending will still fall short of NATO's recommended two per cent of output, officials said Thursday.

Military spending will account for 1.11 per cent of the gross domestic product (GDP) in 2015, defence ministry spokeswoman Viktorija Cieminyte told AFP, totalling 424.5 million euros ($ 536 million) in 2015, up 32 per cent from this year.

Defence Minister Juozas Olekas on Thursday reaffirmed the Baltic state's commitment to meet NATO's military spending recommendations by 2020.

"We need more funds for additional security measures and to meet international commitments to NATO," he told AFP, adding that funding in 2015 will be spent on new anti-aircraft and anti-tank weaponry and to improve infrastructure for training with NATO allies among others.

Vilnius-based analyst Laurynas Kasciunas said the increase was driven by concern that Russia may "test" NATO's Article Five on collective self-defence in the Baltic states.

NATO will set up regional "command and control" centres in "four or five countries, namely Lithuania, Latvia, Estonia, Poland and Romania", Vilnius announced last month.

Meanwhile, US Army troops equipped with tanks arrived in the Baltic states and Poland in recent days for training exercises, replacing paratroopers from the 173rd Airborne Brigade as the US continues rotations of around 600 US troops in the four states.

The Baltics emerged from nearly five decades of Soviet occupation in the early 1990s and joined NATO and the European Union in 2004 in a bid to shore up their sovereignty.

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