Introduction General practitioners (GPs) write about 80% of all antibiotic prescriptions, the greatest number of them for patients with respiratory tract infections. However, there is a lack of research targeting the influence of external factors on antibiotic prescribing by physicians. This study aimed to explore experiences of GPs in Lithuania and the Russian Federation with regard to antibiotic prescription for upper respiratory tract infections. By such means it might be possible to reveal external enabling factors that influence antibiotic prescribing in these countries. Method Five focus groups were performed with 22 GPs from Lithuania and 29 GPs from the Kaliningrad Region of the Russian Federation; then, thematic analysis of data was performed. Results Six thematic categories were identified that are related to external forces enabling antibiotic prescription: the necessity for political leadership to encourage clinically grounded antibiotic use; over-the-counter sale of antibiotics; designation of antibiotics as reimbursable medications; supervision by external oversight institutions; lack of guidelines for the treatment of upper respiratory tract infections; and pharmaceutical company activities. Conclusions Comprehensive efforts to reduce the burden of non-clinically grounded antibiotic prescription should go beyond addressing factors at the physician–patient level and take into account important factors in the enabling environment as well.