WARSAW, Poland — For the first time in years, military budgets across Eastern Europe have expanded their share of the gross domestic products as countries close to Russia nervously eye the ongoing conflict in eastern Ukraine, which followed Moscow's annexation of the Crimean Peninsula in March 2014.
The Czech Republic and Poland, in particular, have reacted to Russian aggression by swiftly moving to plus-up defense spending.
In the Czech Republic, Moscow's intervention in Ukraine has had a major impact on the country's military policy, Jakub Janda, the deputy director for public and political affairs of the European Values think tank in Prague, told Defense News.
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"In the wake of Russian actions, the current Czech government has put up a new political deal on increasing defense spending to 1.4 percent of GDP by 2020, and its level is currently slightly above 1 percent," Janda said, adding that the country's current defense expenditure was "not enough."
"In 2015, the Czech government updated the Security Strategy and Foreign Policy Strategy. Both documents now explicitly point to Russian actions as a major threat," Janda said. "A new, long-term acquisition plan until 2030 for the Czech military was adopted this year."
Petr Medek, the spokesperson for the Czech Ministry of Defence, told local news site Aktualne.sk the ministry aims to purchase new multipurpose helicopters, 3-D radars and armored vehicles, among others.
Poland, meanwhile, has accelerated a number of procurements, and plans to spend at least 83 billion zloty (US $21.6 billion) on new weapons and military gear.
Polish Deputy Defence Minister Bartosz Kownacki told the Parliament's National Defence Committee on July 19 that the ministry will be required to earmark about $10 billion for new mid-range air- and missile-defense systems, set aside more than $5 billion for short-range air-defense systems, allocate $3.3 billion to acquire combat helicopters for the Air Force, and reserve a further $2.5 billion to buy submarines for the Polish Navy.
Other plans include spending "several billion zloty" on UAVs, Kownacki said.
Regarding Poland's efforts to modernize its air-defense capability, Defence Minister Antoni Macierewicz told Defense News in July that the government is likely to acquire Patriot missiles from US firm Raytheon, with a final contract expected by the end of the year.
The announcement came following the signing of a letter of intent between the firm and Poland’s state-run defense group PGZ, indicating Warsaw aimed to foster increased cooperation between local defense companies and foreign players. The government is expected to emphasize the transfer of know-how to the state-owned industry.
For Poland’s government, formed last November following a parliamentary election won by the conservative Law and Justice party, building up the nation’s defense manufacturing capacity is one of the key priorities in the country’s military strategy.
PGZ’s strategy for the years 2015 to 2030 indicates that the state-run group is to triple its revenues from 4 billion zloty in 2014 to 12 billion zloty in 2030, and raise the share of its revenues from exports from 20 percent in 2014 to as much as 50 percent in 2030. It considers establishing partnerships with various foreign defense players as key to achieving these plans.
A PGZ subsidiary, military vehicle plant Rosomak SA, already produces and exports an eight-wheel drive armored modular vehicle made under a license from Finland’s Patria.
Meanwhile, the Baltic states of Estonia, Latvia and Lithuania, located on NATO's eastern flank, have reacted with particular concern to the Kremlin’s support to pro-Russian separatists in eastern Ukraine. The three countries decided to raise their defense expenditure, and are mulling to establish a joint medium-range air-defense system to protect their skies.
Earlier this year, Estonian Defence Minister Hannes Hanso unveiled the country’s plans to spend about €818 million (US $916 million) on acquisitions of new weapons and equipment by 2020, with procurements to include long-range anti-tank missiles, drones, personal weapons and munitions. For 2016, Tallinn earmarked a military budget of €449 million, which translates into about 2.07 percent of Estonia’s GDP.
Meanwhile, Latvia is considering a plan to reintroduce conscription as a result of the geopolitical tensions, after neighboring Lithuania reinstated it last year. For now, Riga has settled on raising its defense expenditure to 1.4 percent of its GDP this year, and expand it to 2 percent by 2018. The spending hike would facilitate plans by Latvia to purchase Stinger anti-aircraft missiles from the US.
In Lithuania, some of the latest examples of military procurements include the Aug. 22 contract by the Defence Ministry to purchase 88 Boxer infantry fighting vehicles from the German-Dutch Artec consortium formed by Krauss-Maffei Wegmann and Rheinmetall MAN Military Vehicles. The deal is worth €385.6 million, and it is to provide the Lithuanian land forces with "greater mobility, force protection and firepower," Lithuanian Chief of Defence Lt. Gen. Jonas Vytautas Zukas said at the official signing ceremony.
Jaroslaw Adamowski is the Poland correspondent for Defense News.