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Why do Eastern European countries invest so much in defence?

  • 1 Jul 2019

Fears of Russian expansion are driving military spending among former Soviet-bloc states.

NATO soldiers of Germany take part in a military exercise 'Saber Strike 2018' at the Training Range in Pabrade some 60km (38 miles) north of the capital Vilnius, Lithuania, Monday, June 11, 2018. A major U.S.-led military exercise with 18,000 soldiers from 19 primarily NATO countries is taking place in the alliance's eastern flank involving Poland and the three Baltic states of Estonia, Latvia, Lithuania. ( AP )

US President Donald Trump has been a strong critic of his country’s NATO allies over their defence spending, demanding that all members of the alliance commit two percent of their GDP to military expenditure.

Only six European states meet that level of military spending; the UK, Greece, Estonia, Romania, Poland, and Latvia.

Of those four are Eastern European states that were formerly under the influence of Moscow as either members of the Soviet Union or the Warsaw Pact.

NATO member defence expenditure as a share of GDP in 2014 and 2019.(TRTWorld)

Since the breakup of the USSR and the Soviet sphere of influence in Eastern Europe in the late eighties and early nineties, newly independent states in the region have closely aligned themselves with the West by joining NATO and integrating themselves into the EU.

The states are therefore bitterly opposed to alleged Russian expansionism in the region.

According to Stratfor Geopolitical Analyst Eugene Chausovsky, the high level of defence spending reflects how seriously Eastern European countries take the perceived threat from Moscow.

“The perceived Russian threat will remain a major driver behind such military expenditures," he told TRT World.

Chausovsky explained that the standoff between Russia and the West over the conflict in Ukraine has been a primary driver of increased defense spending among Eastern European countries since 2014.

Russia has been backing separatist rebels in the Donetsk region since the overthrow of pro-Moscow leader Viktor Yanukovych in 2014.

Moscow also annexed the Crimean peninsula from Ukraine the same year.

Chausovsky said: "This has also been met with greater security commitments on the part of the US and NATO to these countries, including increased troop rotations, military exercises, and weapons buildups.”

The Stratfor analyst also said that he expected Eastern European countries to continue spending more of their GDP on defence relative to western European states.

NATO defence expenditure(TRTWorld)

According to NATO data, Germany spends 1.36 percent of its GDP on defence while Spain spends just 0.92 percent.

NATO was formed in 1949 as a bulwark of western states against the Soviet Union.

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