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Merkel calls for more dialogue with Russia amid troop boost plans

Chancellor Merkel has said that Germany's possible plans to up troops in Lithuania should not aim to enflame tensions with Moscow. Merkel has also called for a "strong and prosperous" UK to remain in the EU.

German Chancellor Angela Merkel called for a continuation of dialogue with Moscow on Friday, despite Berlin's

consideration of a deployment to NATO's eastern borders.

"We are currently reviewing how we can continue our engagement and perhaps even bolster it... in order to ensure the security of all (NATO) states, particularly in the east," Merkel said during a joint press conference with Latvian Prime Minister Maris Kucinskis.

"However I personally always stress that it is very important to us that we act within the framework of the NATO-Russia act," she added, referring to a 1997 agreement on post-Cold War relations.

The pact notably bans the permanent stationing of "substantial forces" and equipment in former Warsaw Pact states.

She went on to emphasize the deployment

should not spark tensions

with Moscow: "We must always also be prepared to allow for dialogue. I think that is very important."

In mid-April, the

NATO-Russia Council

met for the first time in two years to discuss the Ukraine crisis.

Russia's 'hybrid war'

During the press conference, Kucinskis stressed the central role that Germany played in the Baltic region's security. Latvia's eastern frontier is with Russia, while Lithuania borders the Russian exclave of Kaliningrad.

"Russia has unfortunately started a hybrid war," Kucinskis said.

Numerous eastern European NATO and EU partner states have accused Russia of conducting disinformation campaigns in their countries.

Watch video 02:35

NATO and Russia: a difficult relationship

The Latvian prime minister added that his country wanted to secure its border with Russia to guard against a possible influx of refugees from Russia. Several Baltic countries worry that Russia might attempt to pressure EU states by directing refugees over the borders.

Berlin's plan could see Germany deploy a rotating company contingent of between 150 and 250 soldiers to Lithuania to lead a broader alliance force of some 1,000 rotating troops. Poland is set to host a NATO summit in Warsaw this July where the proposal will be formally decided upon.

EU ensures UK 'prosperity'

The two leaders also discussed Great Britain's pending referendum on whether to remain in the European Union. Merkel stressed that staying in the EU would help ensure Britain's prosperity, adding that a planned US-EU trade deal could also bring numerous economic benefits.

Watch video 01:42

TTIP tops topics as Obama meets Merkel

"One must realistically say which advantages membership of the European Union has and what advantages the Transatlantic Trade and Investment Partnership has, and what is being negotiated now is also clear," Merkel said.

"Everybody says this from his or her perspective. I say it from my perspective. We want an economically strong and prosperous Britain in the European Union," she added.

In contrast to US President Barack Obama,

Merkel refrained from issuing a warning about the consequences and disadvantages Great Britain could face should it vote to leave the EU during the nation's June 23 referendum.

Kucinskis said he hoped that the British vote "won't weaken the EU."

rs/tj (AFP, dpa, Reuters)

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