Latvia is set to start work constructing what will be the largest and most state-of-the-art military training area in the Baltic States, at Selija, near its southern border with Lithuania, ETV news show 'Aktuaalne kaamera' (AK) reported Monday.
The Saeima, the Latvian parliament, recently passed legislation which will expedite the process and will give the planned training zone status as an object of national interest.
Estonia's Defense Minister Hanno Pevkur (Reform) told AK that he believes that the Selija training area will not diminish the need for the planned expansion to the Nursipalu training area in South Estonia.
Work on the Selija facility is still to start, beginning with tree-felling in the heavily forested area.
Selija is a region, historically known as Selonia, around 100km Southeast of Riga, the capital.
The recent decisions by the legislature and the executive mean that any legal obstacles to the work should now have been removed, AK reported.
State Secretary of Latvia's Ministry of Defense, Janis Garizons, told AK that: "At present, the first level of infrastructure design has begun – namely firing ranges, training grounds and other main aspects of the area.
"Field camp grounds also need to be built, while other mobile solutions must be created to enable units to start using the training ground. We will probably reach construction stage next year," Garizons went on.
The existing Adaži training area, near Riga and a place where Estonians have also trained, has reached capacity, while at the same time, the number of military personnel from other NATO countries based in Latvia is rising.
At last week's Vilnius summit, Canada's Prime Minister Justin Trudeau announced the country would be doubling its presence in Latvia, already its largest overseas mission, to brigade-size by 2026, while Italy, too, is boosting its contribution.
Canada heads up the NATO enhanced Forward Presences (eFP) Battlegroup based at Adaži, while around a dozen other NATO nations regularly provide personnel and equipment also.
Latvia's own military is expanding in size, too, after the country recently re-introduced conscription.
All of this spells an urgent need for a new location and training area, AK reported.
The planned Selija training area will be 25,600 hectares in size, a little smaller than Nursipalu once it has been extended, but sufficient for full-scale air defense exercises to be conducted at the site in the future.
The training zone lies on the border area of two major municipalities – Aizkraukle and Jekabpils, while, as noted, NATO ally Lithuania is also very close by too – the border is around 50km to the South (see map below).
As a result, Lithuanian MPs have expressed interest in whether and to what extent Latvia's southern neighbor could rely on the planned training ground, though in any case, all three Baltic states still need their own training areas, building them where necessary, AK reported.
Latvia has designed the zone with its own needs uppermost in mind, as a result.
Minister Pevkur, on a visit to Latvia Monday, told AK: "Selija certainly cannot replace Nursipalu. One factor is its distance from us - it is in southern Latvia, after all. Also, logistically speaking it would be impossible to conduct all the firing exercises, and even more importantly, maneuvers, there."
The Latvians already have plenty lot of experience in creating training areas, Garizons went on.
"Since 2015 we have constructed a total of four training areas. We expanded the Adaži complex from 8,000 hectares to 14,000 hectares during that time, while we have also needed to requisition privately-owned land during the process. So we have quite a lot of experience in this area," Garizons said.
Hanno Pevkur added that "Latvia is very sparsely populated."
"This makes it possible to find 26,000 hectares of land in that country but which have practically no private owners, and instead are owned by the state forestry commission. This makes it easier there, for sure," the minister went on, perhaps recalling to mind the situation with the Nursipalu expansion and the need to compulsorily purchase over 20 homes inside the planned zone.
AK reported that Selija could be ready for use next year.
Editor: Andrew Whyte, Merili Nael
Source: 'Aktuaalne kaamera', reporter Ragnar Kond.