Correspondent in Berlin
The German government has so far refused to send arms or troops to the Russian border, despite Ukraine’s insistence and the discomfort of its NATO partners. But just a few hours before the chancellor Olaf Scholz meet in Washington with the president Joe Biden, the German Defense Minister, Christina Lambrecht, has anticipated that the German army will increase its presence in Lithuania with 350 soldiers.
“We are strengthening our contribution to NATO’s eastern flank and we are sending a clear signal of determination to our partners of the Alliance”, declared Minister Lambrecht during a visit to the Münster military training camp. The gesture is clearly intended to please the United States and the message to allies is that “you can trust us.”
He has also specified that the soldiers will be able to “deploy in a few days.”
About 500 Bundeswehr soldiers are in Lithuania, a country bordering Kaliningrad and Belarus and a NATO member since 2004. Germany also regularly participates in NATO airspace surveillance in the Baltic states and in Romania. In the context of tensions with Russia, the German military presence in Lithuania could double, Minister Lambrecht hinted. The Minister of State for Foreign Affairs, Tobias Lindner, has also stated that it contemplates an increase in troops in that mission, which could reach a thousand, and that a decision on the increase will be made in the coming days.
Division in the ‘traffic light coalition’
Although a defense spokesman assures that there are already planned resources for the mission, Lindner has taken pains to clarify that, even doubling the contingent, it could not be seriously interpreted as a threat by Russia. If this happened, then “it would be propaganda,” said the green politician, who seeks to avoid a warlike message towards Moscow. In fact, he has recalled that in the past there were German contingents of between 800 and 1,000 soldiers in the Baltic states without giving rise to a reason for conflict. “The principle of rotation of NATO troops must be respected, no unit will be permanently stationed in Lithuania or in another Baltic country,” he added, surely thinking of the reticence of the militants and voters of his party, the Greens. , which is part of Scholz’s ‘traffic light coalition’ and which does not share the foreign policy towards Ukraine with its social democratic and liberal partners.
Another portfolio occupied by the Greens, the Foreign Ministry, has communicated through a spokesman that the situation in Ukraine is serious. «It is difficult not to understand it as a threat, when Russia has on the border with Ukraine more than a hundred thousand soldiers with heavy equipment, tanks and weapons without any type of information to give what they should act there, “he said. “This is reason enough for us to have very serious and very specific thoughts with our partners about how we would react to such a scenario.”
A defense spokesman has acknowledged, moreover, that talks are currently being held with Lithuania on “at what scale” the military reinforcement should be carried out. It will probably be around “several hundred soldiers”, he has pointed out. From the opposition, the Left party has criticized these plans. «We refuse to send more German soldiers to the Baltic countries» explains its defense expert Sevim Dagdelen, « the last thing needed in the tense situation is another foreign deployment of the Bundeswehr within the framework of NATO on the Russian border ». Now “security guarantees for all parties are necessary instead of constant saber rattling towards Russia,” he added.