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Germany's Baerbock calls for stronger NATO Baltic strategy

April 22, 2022

The German foreign minister has wrapped up a Baltic tour in Lithuania saying Germany is ready to send more troops to the region to deter Russian aggression, calling the current response level concerning.

Annalena Baerbock speaks during a press conference in Vilnius
Baerbock said Germany is opening to contributing a significant number of troops in the BalticsImage: Michael Kappeler/dpa/picture alliance

German Foreign Minister Annalena Baerbock on Friday said Germany was open to sending more troops to NATO's eastern flank, if the alliance agreed to this at a summer summit in Madrid.

As the foreign minister wrapped up an official visit to the three Baltic states with an appearance in Vilnius,  she and her Lithuanian counterpart, Gabrielius Landsbergis, said NATO must be able to immediately and comprehensively repel any potential attack on the Baltic states. 

"If NATO decides to increase its presence to brigade strength, then we in the Federal Republic of Germany will be in favor of making a substantial contribution," Baerbock said. 

"I have understood here that this is necessary," she said, adding that Germany will be ready to take a leading role. 

Under the current NATO scenario, Baltic states risk being overrun before being liberated, Baerbock said. After civilian massacres in Bucha and Mariupol, this policy was no longer acceptable, she added.

Landsbergis also called for more armored vehicles, air defense, sea defenses, and the securing of ports and infrastructure in the region.

'We're sending a message of deterrence'

Baerbock tells troops 'it is an important signal that we are here'

Later in the day, Baerbock traveled to Rukla, where NATO's German-led Enhanced Forward Presence (EFP) battle group in Lithuania is stationed. The foreign minister first met with the battalion's commander, Lieutenant Colonel Daniel Andrä, who updated her on the mission as well as familiarizing her with the newly positioned Ozelot (Ocelot) short-range air defense system (SHORAD). 

Later she greeted roughly 1,000 German soldiers stationed there, thanking them for their service, saying, "It is an important signal that we are here and that we are here as a multi-national force, even though that brings not only linguistic but also technical difficulties."

Baerbock praised the speed and professionalism with which German and NATO forces have met the challenge of very quickly shifting troops and materiel to bolster the alliance's presence in Lithuania, saying it is impressive enough to do so in a few weeks, but that this current challenge had been met within five days' time.

German FM Annalena Baerbock: 'We must protect ourself from Russia'

Baerbock holds back on temporary Russia gas ban

Baerbock also said she considers calls for a temporary import ban on Russian gas to be the wrong approach to pressuring Moscow, adding that sanctions against Russia must take a long-term view.

"If we take this step now, to make ourselves independent of Russian fossil imports, then this must be the step for good," she said at a press conference in Lithuania's capital Vilnius. 

An immediate embargo on Russian oil and gas was also unworkable, the Greens politician said, saying it could lead to a situation where the European Union would grow desperate, forcing it to roll back a potential ban despite worsening brutality in Ukraine.

Earlier this month, the EU agreed to enforce a Russian coal embargo. German Economics Minister Robert Habeck believes Germany can wean itself off Russian oil by the end of the year, but it will take until mid-2024 until it can stop relying on Russian gas.

Estonia, Latvia and Lithuania have said they are currently not buying Russian gas, and are working on plans to keep that policy in place. 

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js,aw/wmr (Reuters, AFP, dpa)