Germany does not rule out sending additional troops to Lithuania, Defense Minister Christine Lambrecht said, as Russia’s military buildup near Ukraine grows.
“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 in an interview with the Funke media group to be published online on Sunday.
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.
“As a matter of principle, additional troops are available as reinforcement, and we are in talks with Lithuania at the moment to find out what exactly would make sense in this regard,” she added.
In addition, Eurofighters would be deployed to Romania for air surveillance.
“Everyone in NATO can rely on us,” the minister said, who 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.
Lambrecht defends Germany’s stance on arming Ukraine
Lambrecht also 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 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 is 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.
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.
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.
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 (dpa, Reuters)