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Monday 22.01.2018 | Name days: Austris
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Latvia's defence budget has been growing only on paper

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Baltic news, News from Latvia, BNN.LV, BNN-NEWS.COM, BNN-NEWS.RUThe country’s allegedly growing budget has only been like that on paper over the course of the past several years. In reality, however, the highest point of Latvia’s defence budget – 1.6% of the country’s GDP – was reached in 2008. It was achieved by including millions of expenses that were not directly related to defence in any way.

Publishing of literary works and other tasks unrelated to the defence sector were funded as part of the defence budget, as reported by De facto programme of LTV.

Since Latvia’s joining of NATO, the country’s defence budget has grown from EUR 133 million to EUR 370 million over the last decade. The current defence budget is EUR 225 million, which is 0.91% of GDP.

However, there would be a different percentage division if certain defence budget expenses were to be revealed. Up until 2009, some officials tried to add anything that can be associated with this sector to the budget expenses. For example – the bridge over Gauja River in Ādaži. This undertaking cost EUR 3.7 million (EUR 2.6 million from the Defence budget). In reality, however, the only relation this project had with defence sector is that it connected with Ādaži base.

Hundreds of thousands were used to fund official visits of the State President, millions for the Constitution Protection Bureau, the financing of guards of the Bank of Latvia, the border guard – these are only some of the positions included in the defence budget to make it seem bigger proportionally.

Even more money was used in 2008 for monument restoration, construction of a radio-telescope at Ventspils University College and financial support for the publication of Imants Ziedonis’ book.

Latvia’s defence budget has special relations with sports. With blessing from politicians, funds from the defence budget were used to generously finance sports federations and private sports clubs, some of them were even provided as much as EUR 1 million per year. Due to the crisis, this financial flow was stopped in 2009.

In parallel to all this, Defence Ministry financially supported the construction of 52 sports objects and restoration. What is curious about this particular financial endeavour is that the sports hall of Ādaži base – which is visited by Latvian soldiers most often – is not restored to this day. A big part of Latvia’s army in Aluksne remained outside of priorities of the defence budget as well. This was the political agenda then, says then the state secretary to Defence Ministry Janis Sarts.

However, Latvian politicians were not the only ones with a rather general interpretation of defence expenses. For example, France had integrated its gendarmery into defence positions. With that, comparisons of defence expenses up until 2008 are hard to compare. ‘Up until a certain point in time we were able to use the old [NATO] definition to prove how everything [expenses] relates to this definition. I believe it is because of different countries’ frivolous behaviour in adding different unrelated things to their defence budgets that we now have a very narrow definition to explain what we can add and what we cannot,’ – says Sarts.

It has been five years since all of the aforementioned expenses have been subtracted from the defence budget.

Now that the first cries to increase the defence budget have been voiced, the army expects to receive new armoured vehicles and hopes to develop the skills of its special forces. Meanwhile, dozens of well-trained soldiers continue to leave the army. Many seek new jobs because of remuneration. Since 2009, average salaries of soldiers were reduced by EUR 100 – 300 per month. If the budget provides the money, authorities promise to invest in soldiers.

After the events in Ukraine and Crimea, Latvian politicians promise to cultivate the country’s defence budget. For real this time. ‘An increase of up to 2% of GDP (0.2% a year) would be a successful budget growth initiative. If the budget does not end up being developed properly, this initiative should be reconsidered. Empty shouts about allocating 2% for defence budget may end badly for us,’ – says the head of Saeima’s Defence, Internal Affairs and Corruption Prevention Committee Ainars Latkovskis.

Chairman of Saeima’s National Security Committee Valdis Zatlers does not allow the possibility of the defence budget not being increased: ‘Our determination is clear. The threat level in the world is high enough not to allow any degree of populism in this.’

‘The greatest threat for the defence budget will arise when we start discussing salary bonuses and soldiers end up outside of it all,’ – believes Commander of Latvian National Forces Raimonds Graube.

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