Thursday, June 30

Germany withdraws soldiers from its NATO mission in Lithuania due to racist behavior


Correspondent in Berlin

Updated:

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The German Defense Minister, Annegret Kramp-Karrenbauer has resolutely responded to allegations of sexual coercion and right-wing extremism at a Bundeswehr unit in Lithuania. The whole platoon has been relieved and has been ordered to return immediately to Berlin, where “all serious misconduct” will be thoroughly studied, as well as the possible complicity by silence of soldiers not directly related to the events but who did not report them. “In Germany all the necessary investigations and procedures will continue and there will be consequences,” the minister wrote on Twitter.

The platoon was stationed in Lithuania as part of a NATO initiative when an article in the German weekly Der Spiegel revealed the accusations against four of the soldiers, a serious offense during an internal celebration that they lost control. On-site investigations had revealed evidence of crimes such as sexual assault, insults, possibly with racist motivations, and coercion, as well as extremist behavior consisting of singing songs that German far-right groups sing as hymns, according to the Defense Ministry. At the party, which took place on April 30 at a hotel in the Rukla region, some armored infantrymen were so drunk and partying so much during the weekend of leave that hotel staff alerted the German military police. They reported, for example, that a soldier wanted to put his penis in the mouth of a sleeping colleague during the party at the hotel while another was recording a video. In the course of subsequent interrogations, several soldiers acknowledged that a birthday serenade had been sung for Adolf Hitler on April 20, an incident that took place at the Lithuanian Army headquarters in Rukla and that he was even warned by a superior without his stated in any report.

As soon as these events were published, Kramp-Karrenbauer sent a team of investigators to Lithuania and threatened those who knew something about the incidents but did not pass on the information with also holding them responsible. When the soldiers were questioned about the incidents at the hotel, it was learned that the main suspects had pressured and threatened several colleagues not to tell anything. By pulling the thread, the researchers also learned that at the beginning of April there was the mysterious disappearance of 569 cartridges from the arsenal of the platoon and the Ministry of Defense has informed the representatives in the Defense Committee, before ordering the withdrawal.

Previous behaviors

The Enhanced Forward Presence (eFP) mission in Lithuania is part of NATO’s deterrence presence against Russia in this territory. Since 2017, several hundred German soldiers have been training local units in Lithuania and performing joint exercises to be ready for action in the shortest time possible in an emergency. It is usual for them to enjoy their permits in that same hotel, but the entire mission is strictly prohibited from consuming alcohol.

“It is already quite clear that there is much more than a party that got out of hand,” said the spokesman for the Defense of the Greens, Tobias Lindner, who believes that “especially in an environment as sensitive as Lithuania, where NATO troops have already been exposed to fake news campaigns by Russia, this is particularly devastating. ‘ Lindner has also demanded that the supervision of service within the troops be verified. “It is not clear to me how the superiors have not noticed such serious things,” he said.

The fact is that there were already previous indications of behavior as little inappropriate of the German troops in Lithuania. Last year, citing a response from the federal government to a request from Die Linke MP Ulla Jelpke, the TAZ newspaper published two specific cases. Since the beginning of January 2020, for example, several accusations have been registered against a soldier who “verbally insulted and threatened a colleague repeatedly in relation to the color of your skin». The military disciplinary attorney determined at that time that the process had not yet concluded. In a second case, according to the same report, four German soldiers in the smoking area in front of a Lithuanian barracks “imitated animal noises” when a black soldier from France passed them. According to the Defense Ministry, the suspects could not be identified, so there were no consequences.

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