By Aija Krutaine
RIGA, Aug 22 (Reuters) - The Baltic states and Poland must invest in military infrastructure so they can host troops from other NATO nations for training or in case of crisis, Latvia’s defense minister said on Friday.
Russia’s annexation of Crimea and the conflict in eastern Ukraine have alarmed Latvia, Estonia and Lithuania – like Ukraine, former Soviet republics with Russian-speaking minorities.
NATO's 28 leaders are expected to discuss plans to reassure Poland and the Baltics at a summit in Wales on Sept. 4-5.
Germany’s Angela Merkel, during a short visit to Latvia on Monday, pledged NATO would defend the Baltic states, although it would not send permanent combat troops.
"Any country, including the Baltic states, also Poland, have to strengthen their infrastructure ... so they can host additional troops for training and crisis situations,” Latvia’s Defense Minister Raimonds Vejonis told Reuters.
In Latvia’s case that would mean investments in Adazi base for ground troops, Lielvarde air base and Liepaja naval base, he said, adding he hoped NATO would contribute to the spending.
Latvia and Lithuania spend respectively just 0.9 and 0.8 percent of GDP on defense but have pledged to meet the alliance's target of 2.0 percent by 2020.
"There is no direct military threat at the moment, but we have to develop our armed forces, we have to create infrastructure, we have to be ready to host representatives of NATO countries if there suddenly is a military aggression," the minister said.
"(Russian forces) carry out aggressive training close to our border, signaling how strong they are. We can’t leave it without reaction."
(Editing by Alistair Scrutton and Andrew Roche)