These Baltic Militias Are Readying For War With Russia

You’re driving down a dirt road near the village of Misa, Latvia, roughly 32 miles south east of Riga, when suddenly a dozen youngsters emerge from the woods. They’re dressed in military garb, and their faces are painted green and brown; they wear tree branches around their heads and arms—camouflage. They’ve just finished a training simulation: liberating a hostage from enemy soldiers. They are members of the Youth Guard, a section of Latvia’s National Guard. With its more than 8,000 volunteers, it is the country’s largest paramilitary group.

Tomaso Clavarino is an Italian documentary photographer who spent nearly a month reporting from Eastern Europe and the Baltic states. Between April and June of this year, he followed several Baltic paramilitary groups, including the Lithuanian Lietuvos Šaulių Sąjunga (“Riflemen’s Union”), the Estonian Defense League, and the National Guard, which was recently folded into Latvia’s 1,500-strong National army. While these groups have existed for decades, their ranks have swelled in recent years in response to Russian aggression.

Among the paramilitary volunteers are bikers, ex-soldiers, hunters, and stockbreeders. Each group has its own division dedicated to training young men and women in military tactics and patriotism; some volunteers are as young as 12 years old. These groups insist they are apolitical. They seek to defend their borders and train the warriors of tomorrow to prepare for whatever Putin has planned next.

Read more
Hints: View this page full screen. Skip to the next and previous photo by typing j/k or ←/→.

Most Recent

  • Jassen Todorov

    Winners of the 2018 National Geographic Nature Photographer of the Year Contest

    National Geographic magazine has announced the winning entries in its annual photo competition.

  • Emma McIntyre / Getty for KROQ / Entercom

    Photos of the Week: State Funeral, Mass Marriage, Krampus Parade

    A prison beauty contest in Brazil, a 3-D-printed e-motorcycle in Germany, the state funeral of former President George H. W. Bush, SantaCon in New York City, “yellow vest” protests in Paris, and much more

  • Siese Veenstra / AFP / Getty

    Hopeful Images From 2018

    I’ve made it a tradition to compose an essay of uplifting images from the past year—an effort to seek out and recognize some of the abundant joy and kindness present in the world around us.

  • Mandel Ngan / AFP / Getty

    2018 in Photos: Wrapping Up the Year

    Time to take a look back at some of the most memorable events and images of 2018. Among the events covered in this essay, part 3 of 3: midterm congressional elections in the United States, hurricanes and typhoons in Asia and North America, Brazil’s election of the far-right Jair Bolsonaro as its new president, and much more.