Germany sends troops to Lithuania as a sign of support for Ukraine | International

Maneuvers at the Bundeswehr training ground in Münster, Germany, during the visit of Defense Minister Christine Lambrecht.
Maneuvers at the Bundeswehr training ground in Münster, Germany, during the visit of Defense Minister Christine Lambrecht.FOCKE STRANGMANN (EFE)

Just a few hours before Foreign Minister Olaf Scholz’s first visit to Washington, the German government announced Monday that it will send 350 soldiers to Lithuania to join NATO’s contingent in this country. The gesture comes at a difficult time for Germany’s international image, questioned by the United States and other Alliance partners, especially in Eastern Europe, for its apparent lukewarm response to the deployment of Russian troops on the border with Ukraine.

The sending of additional troops to the contingent of 500 Bundeswehr soldiers, who are already stationed in Lithuania, is therefore interpreted as a signal to the rest of the allies. Germany wants to make it clear that it is going to play a more active role in the crisis and is trying to assert itself against its critics. Defense Minister Social Democrat Christine Lambrecht summed it up with one sentence: “You can trust us,” she said during a visit to a military training center in Münster, western Germany. The soldiers will be able to deploy “in a few days,” she added Lambrecht. The Bundestag, the lower house of the German Parliament, had been informed a few minutes before making the announcement public. “In this way we strengthen our contribution to NATO’s eastern flank and send a clear signal of our determination to our Alliance partners,” said the German Defense Minister.

The German reinforcements will add to the NATO mission in Lithuania, where there are approximately 1,200 soldiers since 2017 under German command. The troops come from the Netherlands, Norway, the Czech Republic, Belgium and Luxembourg. The United States has also posted a battalion of 500 soldiers. To this must be added four F-16s, provided by Poland and belonging to the Baltic Air Police, a force deployed after the entry of the former Soviet Baltic republics (Estonia, Latvia and Lithuania) into the Atlantic Alliance in 2004.

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NATO Secretary General Jens Stoltenberg assured on Monday that the allies are holding meetings to increase their presence in Eastern Europe to strengthen “in the long term” the “defense and deterrence” capacity of the military organization against the threat posed by Russia. Stoltenberg appeared alongside Polish President Andrzej Duda, who is calling for a greater NATO presence in Eastern Europe. Alliance defense ministers will discuss these reinforcements at a meeting scheduled for February 16-17. “If Russia really wants less NATO near the borders, she’s going to get the opposite,” Stoltenberg said.

“German lack of commitment”

The announcement of the dispatch of soldiers coincides with Scholz’s arrival in Washington to visit the president of the United States, Joe Biden, with whom the new German chancellor had not yet met. Ukraine is the first major foreign policy crisis faced by Scholz, whose tripartite government with Greens and Liberals has just completed two months. In recent weeks, several decisions in Berlin had been interpreted by other NATO partners as a lack of commitment from the Germans. The refusal to send arms to Ukraine is one of them, but Scholz’s ambiguous stance on the controversial Gazprom-controlled Nord Stream 2 gas pipeline has also been widely criticized.

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Berlin announces the dispatch of additional troops in a day of intense diplomatic efforts on two continents to try to defuse the Ukraine crisis. German Foreign Minister Annalena Baerbock traveled to Kiev for the second time in three weeks to meet her Ukrainian counterpart Dimitro Kuleba. On Tuesday, she will visit the Donbas region, where a conflict that began in 2014 between the Ukrainian army and pro-Russian separatists continues. French President Emmanuel Macron also joined the Western diplomatic offensive with a trip to Moscow to meet with Vladimir Putin in the Kremlin. For his part, Scholz will receive Macron and Duda in Berlin on Tuesday to discuss the situation. On Thursday, the chancellor will meet, also in the German capital, with the heads of state and government of the Baltic countries to discuss security in Eastern Europe.

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Baerbock and Kuleba discussed the tensions with Russia, but also the development of trade relations and the strengthening of energy security. Kiev wants Berlin not to authorize the operation of the Nord Stream 2 gas pipeline, which would transport Russian fuel directly to Germany without passing through Ukrainian territory. At the end of last year, the German regulator temporarily suspended the certification of the infrastructure, controlled by the gas giant Gazprom. The United States and other Alliance partners want the suspension of the gas pipeline to be one of the sanctions imposed by the West on Russia in the event of an attack.

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George Holan

George Holan is chief editor at Plainsmen Post and has articles published in many notable publications in the last decade.

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