VILNIUS, July 10 Lithuania's parliament voted on
Thursday to boost defence spending to buy weapons and pay for an
increased NATO presence despite warnings that doing so could
breach fiscal discipline laws enacted with an eye to joining the
The Baltic states of Lithuania, Latvia and Estonia, ruled by
Moscow in Soviet times but now all NATO members, are seeking to
improve regional security after Russia annexed Crimea.
Lithuania's parliament voted unanimously to increase the
defence budget in 2014 by about 130 million litas (38 million
euros), which along with the 57.5 mln litas rise in the original
2014 budget approved in December represents a 20 percent hike
"The changing geopolitical and security situation in Europe
after Russia's aggression in Ukraine" made it essential to
increase spending, the defence ministry told parliament.
The increase will bring Lithuania's defence spending to 0.9
percent of gross domestic product in 2014, in line with the
level in neighbouring Latvia.
Both countries plan to boost defence spending to the NATO
target of two percent by 2020. Estonia, the smallest of the
Baltic states, already meets the target.
Lithuania's central bank has warned that the government will
need to cut elsewhere if it wants to increase defence spending
and still balance its budget. But Defence Minister Juozas Olekas
said security comes first.
"There will be nothing to be prudent about if there is no
security and no free and democratic Lithuania," he told Reuters
Both Lithuania and Latvia cut defence spending during the
recession caused by the global financial crisis in 2008.
Laws to limit spending to keep budget deficits in control
were adopted later as both countries sought to adopt the euro
Latvia joined the euro zone on Jan. 1, 2014, and Lithuania
is expected to adopt the single currency from the start of 2015.
Lithuania's defence ministry said the additional money will
be used to buy more anti-aircraft and anti-tank weapons. The
country does not have tanks or fighter jets itself, and would
rely on help from NATO allies in case of an attack.
NATO members states have already agreed to deploy more
fighter jets to patrol the Baltic skies on a rotating basis. The
United States has sent 600 troops to Poland and the three Baltic
states for month-long infantry exercises.
(Reporting by Andrius Sytas; Editing by Nerijus Adomaitis and