Top US and NATO officials have said increased military exercises on Russia's western border do not amount to "saber-rattling," in an indirect rebuke of comments made by German Foreign Minister Frank-Walter Steinmeier.
Germany's top diplomat warned in an interview on Saturday that US and NATO military exercises in Eastern Europe threatened to heighten tensions with Russia, at the expense of diplomacy and dialogue.
"What we shouldn't do now is to inflame the situation by loud saber-rattling and shrill war cries," Steinmeier told "Bild" newspaper. "Those who believe symbolic tank parades on the alliance's eastern border will bring more security are mistaken."
Steinmeier called for dialogue and diplomacy with Russia, saying it would be "fatal to now narrow the focus to the military, and seek a remedy solely through a policy of deterrence."
Germany's top diplomat did, however, recognize Russia's action in Ukraine "aroused a feeling amongst our eastern neighbors" that must be taken seriously.
Steinmeier's comments came as NATO wrapped up a major two-week military training exercise in Poland involving more than 20 NATO and partner countries, including Germany. The exercise involved 31,000 troops and were designed to reassure Poland and NATO members Latvia, Lithuania and Estonia amid concerns over a repeat of Russia's 2014 intervention in Ukraine.
The military exercise was held weeks before a critical NATO summit in Warsaw, where the alliance is expected to approve the deployment of four new rotating combat ready brigades in Poland and the Baltic states, each of up to 1,000 troops, to act as a deterrent against Russia.
Germany is expected to contribute to the rotating force, something Chancellor Angela Merkel has also said should not provoke Russia or endanger open dialogue.
Russia views the military exercises and troop deployment on its border as a hostile act.
Without naming Steinmeier, NATO Secretary General Jens Stoltenberg said Monday the alliance was trying to avoid escalating tensions with Moscow, but the brigade deployments and training exercises were necessary in the face of Russia's actions.
"We are intensively searching for ways to prevent escalation. At the same time we must respond to Russia, a country which has increased military spending fourfold since 2000, behaved more aggressively and used military force to change the borders of Europe," Stoltenberg said in an interview with Germany's "Süddeutsche Zeitung" on Tuesday.
"The Cold War is over and we want it to stay that way," Stoltenberg added. Referring to the new NATO force in Eastern Europe, he said: "What we are doing is moderate, responsible and transparent."
Top US Navy officials interviewed by Reuters echoed Stoltenberg's comments, saying increased exercises in Eastern Europe do not amount to "sable-rattling." Rather, the exercises are designed to train capabilities with allies and deter aggressive Russian expansion.
"What's important is what comes out of NATO, and what comes out of the defense ministerial and the summit in Warsaw," US Navy Secretary Ray Mabus told Reuters in Berlin on Monday. "And the aim and the resolution of NATO are pretty clear in terms of deterrence and reassurance."
cw/cmk (AFP, dpa, Reuters)