The professional service is more than 400 soldiers short, according to data provided by the Ministry of Defense. Given the need to increase the capabilities of the army, the number of soldiers will need to be increased even more than previously planned.
Russia's invasion of Ukraine in February this year was also a push for the development of the Latvian army. More funding, more allied support and more powerful development plans, which had been planned to accomplish in the next three or five years became a much closer future. But it also meant that war was much closer to home, and the flow of volunteers to professional service has fallen sharply.
Colonel Sandris Gaugers, Commander of the Land Force Mechanized Infantry Brigade, said: “The war in Ukraine has frightened the public, and this is probably one of the main reasons why people are now joining the armed forces in a much smaller number than in previous years.”
If, two years ago, in 2020, the recruitment plan was not only fulfilled but even exceeded by several hundred, last year's increase slowed down. By the end of this year, the had to be 7,100 troops in the professional service, but by October 14 there were only 6,666.
On the other hand, due to the number of retired troops, the professional army has only grown by six people this year, although the plan was to grow it by nearly 500.
There were hopes to replenish the army with the drafting of the mandatory defense service at the beginning of next year. However, following a proposal from the responsible commission, the Saeima on October 20 excluded the draft law from the agenda nearly unanimously.
The head of the Defense, Internal Affairs and Corruption Prevention Commission responsible for the draft law Juris Rancāns said that there had been too many proposals and all controversial, and they could not be dealt with so quickly. "And it wouldn't be right for us, the departing 13th Saeima, to adopt a really bad law that the president would not even be able to give back, just because of the urgency," said Rancāns.
More than a hundred proposals had been submitted to the amending of the bill. The main objections relate to the parallel civil service, which was meant to be an alternative to those not ready for military service. There is no draft law or financing for that yet.
The committee responsible said it would take two more weeks to prepare the draft law for the next reading. This would transfer the responsibility to the next Saeima, meaning that work on the project could only be resumed in mid-November. By the end of the fall session, about a month remains.
Saeima deputy Ainars Latkovskis said: “Let us take this issue with a vote at the Saeima meeting and begin to see. Even these two weeks will likely be too little, but let's go through [..]."
Asked when the bill could be adopted, Latkovsky replied, “It should go in early December somewhere. It's absolutely mandatory until Christmas. It wouldn't happen any differently."
Even if the law is picked up by the end of the year, the question remains when it will take effect. A version is currently underway for July next year.