2015.09.08 13:45

Grybauskaitė calls for higher defense budget, Balčytis says no war imminent

DELFI EN | The Lithuania Tribune2015.09.08 13:45

(BNS) Lithuania’s President Dalia Grybauskaitė on Thursday again called for an increase in defence spending by the end of this year due to what she said were threats from Russia.

 (BNS) Lithuania’s President Dalia Grybauskaitė on Thursday again called for an increase in defence spending by the end of this year due to what she said were threats from Russia.

Speaking in the presidential election debate, Grybauskaitė stated that the government’s failure to take the steps would force her to initiate a budget revision. In her words, the need to raise the defence spending comes from Russia’s military activity, including the exercises in its Kaliningrad region and the pil-up of troops at Ukrainian borders.

Her opponent, Zigmantas Balčytis of the Social Democrats, said there are no reasons to urgently boost the defence budget, stressing he is certain that there will no war.

“We are surrounded by threats today, not tomorrow or the day after tomorrow, the time of declarations, documents and statements has passed, the time has come for working,” Grybauskaitė said in the debate broadcast on the LRT national broadcaster on Thursday night.

In her words, the defence budget can be increased from the additional revenue, as well as by way of decreasing shadow economy and slightly raising the budget deficit. Such step would not undermine the pension compensation plans or adoption of the euro, said Grybauskaitė who is running for re-election on Sunday.

Asked about specific figures, Grybauskaitė said that the Defence Ministry recently asked the Finance Ministry for 130 million litas (EUR 37.7 mln) but was refused.

Balcytis, the Social Democrats’ candidate, accentuated that the defence budget should be considered along with other financial commitments, adding that Lithuania is not faced with an imminent threat at the moment.

“The threats are not anywhere near us. We should not cause fears among the people of Lithuania about how difficult the situation is and that nobody will defend us,” said Balčytis.

“As a president, I can assure you, there will be no war,” said the MEP.

In his words, Lithuania should not rush anywhere but should first of all consider the Maastricht criteria countries have to meet to enter the euro zone.

“I just cannot understand the rush – the defence system needs a total of 1.2 billion litas to meet our commitments. Furthermore, the final decision will be made by the new European Parliament on July 22. We have to be responsible and stay below every single of the Maastricht criterion,” Balčytis added.

In response to the Russian aggression in Ukraine, the parliament’s National Security and Defence Committee urged on Wednesday to raise the defence spending by at least 100 million litas before the end of 2014.

Nevertheless, Finance Minister Rimantas Šadžius told journalists after the government’s meeting on Thursday that “the defence financing is high enough,” adding that it may be possible to increase it by a few million litas form the Privatization Fund this year.

This year’s defence budget totals at 981 million litas, which makes about 0.8 percent of the gross domestic product (GDP). In terms of this indicator, Lithuania takes the penultimate place among NATO members. Allies have repeatedly urged Lithuania to ensure better defence spending.

A month ago, Ukraine’s neighbouring Romania expanded the defence budget by an equivalent of more than 500,000 litas.

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