Germany will deploy up to 350 additional troops "within a few days" to Lithuania, Defense Minister Christine Lambrecht said Monday, as Russia's military buildup near Ukraine grows.
"We are therefore strengthening our troop contribution on NATO's eastern flank and sending a clear sign of our resolve to our allies," Lambrecht said. She said Berlin wants to send a message that "you can rely on us."
A bolstered German military presence in Lithuania would make it the second largest foreign deployment after Mali.
How is Germany helping Lithuania militarily?
Lambrecht discussed Germany's contribution to Lithuania's defense in a published interview with Funke media group on Sunday.
"We (Germany) are already making a very important contribution in Lithuania, where we are the only country in the European Union to have a battlegroup," Lambrecht said.
These so-called NATO battlegroups, led by the US, Germany, Canada and Britain, are meant to stall an attack in the region and buy time for additional NATO troops to reach the frontline.
She previously said Eurofighters would be deployed to Romania for air surveillance.
The minister had visited Lithuania in her first foreign trip in December.
Germany has been the leading nation in the NATO operation in Lithuania for five years and provides around half of the 1,200 men and women in the multinational unit.
Germany still refuses to arm Ukraine
Lambrecht has also recently defended Germany's refusal to supply arms to Kyiv, after Ukraine's embassy in Germany sent a list with requests to the foreign and defense ministries in Berlin.
The list included missile defense systems, tools for electronic warfare, night vision goggles, digital radios, radar stations and military ambulances.
"It has long been the clear stance of the federal government, even in previous legislative periods, that we do not deliver weapons to crisis areas in order not to escalate further there," she said in the Funke media group interview.
"In the Ukraine conflict we have negotiating partners who have come back to the negotiating table…That is why it is now our task to de-escalate. We want to resolve this conflict peacefully," Lambrecht stressed.
German Chancellor Olaf Scholz's departure for Washington on Sunday marks the start of a diplomatic offensive aimed at de-escalating tensions with Russia.
In a televised interview on Wednesday, Scholz said Germany's allies "know exactly" what Berlin's position is.
Scholz is also expected to welcome the heads of state and government of the Baltic states in Berlin on Thursday, focusing talks on the Ukraine crisis and the security situation in Eastern Europe.
On February 14 and 15, the German leader is set to travel to Kiev and Moscow.
Russia at 70% of Ukraine military buildup, US says
Moscow has denied planning to invade Ukraine but has gathered tens of thousands of troops near its neighbor's borders.
Russia has assembled at least 70% of the military firepower it likely intends to have in place by mid-February to give President Vladimir Putin the option of launching a full-scale invasion of Ukraine, US officials announced on Sunday.
In response to the Russian buildup, Washington has ordered about 3,000 extra troops to bolster NATO's eastern flank in Poland and Romania.
The first of these US troops arrived on Saturday at Rzeszow military base in southeastern Poland.
Satellite images show Russian military exercises near Ukraine
Maxar Technologies, a private US company, published satellite images on Sunday showing details of military maneuvers at the Belarusian border with Ukraine.
The images showed that military units armed with missiles, multiple rocket launchers and attack aircraft had deployed to Belarus at three locations close to the border with Ukraine.
Russia and Belarus have said they will hold joint exercises on February 10-20 aimed at training to prevent an attack on southern borders of their alliance.
Diplomatic solution more likely than Russian attack, Ukraine says
Senior officials have told US lawmakers that a large-scale Russian invasion could kill as many as 50,000 civilians and prompt a refugee crisis in Europe, The New York Times reported on Saturday.
Ukraine's presidency, however, stressed on Sunday that the chance of resolving escalating tensions with Russia through diplomacy remained greater than that of an attack.
"An honest assessment of the situation suggests that the chance of finding a diplomatic solution for de-escalation is still substantially higher than the threat of further escalation," presidency advisor Mykhailo Podolyak declared in a statement.
NATO has already deployed four multinational combat units with some 5,000 troops in total in Poland, Lithuania, Latvia and Estonia. They were deployed in response to Russia's annexation of the Crimea region from Ukraine in 2014.
mvb,wd/wd (dpa, Reuters)