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German, Belgian troops arrive in Vilnius as part of NATO deployment

The troops have been stationed in the Baltic states as a deterrent against possible Russian aggression. Lithuania lauded Germany's decision to head up the defense maneuver.

After a day-long delay due to inclement wintry weather, 17 German officers arrived in the Lithuanian capital on Tuesday afternoon to lead a deployment of NATO forces in the Baltic region.

The Bundeswehr soldiers will head up a battalion composed of approximately 1,200 soldiers from various NATO countries in order to reinforce defense measures along the military alliance's eastern flank.

In addition to the German soldiers, 30 Belgian troops landed at a western Lithuanian airport near Palanga and a ship containing logistical equipment sailed into the seaport of Klaipeda, AFP reported. Latvia, Poland and Estonia will also host NATO troops as part of the same operation.

Defending NATO's eastern region

The arrival of troops in Lithuania is part of a broader NATO decision made at last summer's summit. At that meeting, member nations agreed to install continuous troop rotations along NATO's eastern frontier so as to deter Russian incursion into the Baltic nations that once formed part of the Soviet Union. Russian's irredentist annexation of Crimea from Ukraine in 2014 amplified fears in the Baltic states of a similar occurrence. 

Deutschland | Panzertruppe der Bundeswehr bricht nach Litauen auf (Reuters/M. Rehle)

Bundeswehr soldiers will lead a NATO battalion in the Baltic states

Though political parties within Germany - whose national history makes it a hesitant military leader - clashed over the deployment of German troops, Lithuanian President Dalia Grybauskaite greeted Germany's decision to lead the NATO forces as a "breakthrough" for the future of European defense.

Moscow, on the other hand, has criticized the move as an example of NATO aggression against Russia.

Around 450 more German troops will be deployed to Lithuania, with mechanized infantry units (Panzergrenadier) arriving in the next few weeks. The full thousand-strong contingent is expected to be in place in the region in May.

cmb/msh (AFP, dpa)

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