Recent Russian aggression against Ukraine, and the seizure of part of Ukraine (Crimea) has got many other Russian neighbors rethinking their defense planning. The president of Lithuania is urging parliament to approve a sharp rise in defense spending that would increase what the country spends on defense from the current .8 percent of GDP to two percent within five years. Although Lithuania is now a member of NATO, the national and military leadership believe more than doubling defense spending is needed to boost the ability of the military to resist the Russians until NATO reinforcements can arrive. NATO has an unofficial agreement that all members will invest at least two percent of GDP into defense forces and infrastructure. This makes it easier for NATO allies to come to the assistance of a member under attack and get there in time. This is particularly essential when dealing with “The Bear” (Russia) who, it is feared, might grab all or part of a small country like Lithuania and then call for peace talks (the alternative being Russia threatening to use its nukes).
This change in thinking is in sharp contrast to 2009, when Lithuania announced it was cutting its defense budget 20 percent, to $431 million. That was in the face of a recent Russia announcement that it would cut its military spending 15 percent. Most East European nations have been hard hit by the 2008 recession, and many of them were expected to cut their defense spending to a similar extent. Most of the cuts were in procurement of new weapons and equipment. Layoffs were a less attractive option, considering the rising civilian unemployment.
At the same time Russia had already announced that it would resume rebuilding its decrepit armed forces by 2011 and that the recession was only a temporary setback. Like most East European nations, there was a big drop in military spending after the Soviet Union collapsed in 1991. The Soviet Union was the major producer of weapons for the nations of Eastern Europe, and in the early 1990s, orders for those weapons basically stopped. Many of the existing weapons were sold off as the armed forces were much reduced in size. For over a decade, no new equipment was bought by Russia, and much of what already existed was not well maintained. There was a huge buildup of deferred procurement, especially since a lot of the older equipment and weapons have not only gotten older, but have become obsolete because of new technology. Russia had fallen behind the other East European nations in this technology race. The non-Russian nations have been largely more successful in reforming their communist era economies, and most have joined NATO, and obtained help in updating their weapons. But Russia was still the largest military power in Eastern Europe, and had the biggest need to rebuild. And rebuild it did spending over $50 billion a year lately on buying new equipment and infrastructure.
Russia’s neighbors believe this surge in Russian defense spending plays a part in encouraging Russia to go after Ukraine. Many other states bordering Russia feel they might be next.