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Neighboring countries of Russia call on NATO allies to reinstate military service

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Neighboring countries of Russia call on NATO allies to reinstate military service

Neighboring countries of Russia call on NATO allies to reinstate military service

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  • Toivo Saabas, a 25-year-old mechanical engineering graduate, is a part of the Estonian military service.
  • Norway is increasing the number of conscripted soldiers, while Denmark plans to extend conscription to women.
  • Latvia, Sweden, and Lithuania have recently restarted military service, with Lithuania bringing it back after Russia annexed Crimea in 2014.
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Rain drips down the glasses of recruit Toivo Saabas, tracing the contours of the green and black face paint that he wears to complete his camouflage. As Toivo lies on the saturated ground and peers through the sight of his gun, the only frailty that threatens to give away his position is the plume of air he silently breathes out into the icy Estonian forest.

Then the deafening call to attack comes.

The 25-year-old springs to his feet. Forming a line with his brothers in arms, he bounds through the trees towards the Russian border.

As he advances to the clatter of enemy fire, the Southampton University mechanical engineering graduate understands that one day this could all be for real.

“We’re practicing for any threat,” he says.

“We’re ready for anything that comes to Estonia and we’re ready to defend the country.”

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Toivo, from the capital Tallinn, is among the current crop of young Estonians undergoing their military service – a duty that all men over 18 are required to carry out. For women, it’s voluntary.

As the Cold War ended, and relations with post-Soviet Russia warmed in the 1990s, many parts of Europe appeared to consign conscription to history.

But not in Estonia, where the collective pain of occupation and deportation would have made it impossible for conscription to fade away.

And now, following President Putin’s full-scale invasion of Ukraine, countries across Europe are rebooting and expanding conscription, with those living on Russia’s doorstep urging their NATO allies further afield, including the UK, to follow suit.

This week Norway announced it was increasing the number of conscripted soldiers after Denmark announced last month its intention to extend conscription to women and increase the duration of service.

Latvia and Sweden recently restarted military service, and Lithuania brought it back after Russia annexed Crimea in 2014.

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“It takes a toll on you,” says a drenched Toivo, explaining that the training has been the toughest experience of his life.

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