As reinsurance against Russian aggression, the Baltic state is hoping for a greater presence of the Bundeswehr – but that is not on the agenda of Defense Minister Pistorius’ visit.
Defense Minister Boris Pistorius (SPD) has started a two-day visit to Lithuania by promising solid military support for the protection of the NATO partner. After a meeting with German soldiers, the SPD politician wanted to observe the joint military exercise “Griffin Lightning” today and hold military-political talks in the capital Vilnius. There are currently around 1,450 soldiers from Germany in Lithuania, including a brigade involved in the exercises.
“We stand firmly by the side of our partners and friends,” said Pistorius on Monday evening in a barracks in Rukla used by NATO troops. “Lithuania’s security is also our security, and that’s why this engagement is so important.”
Lithuania is pushing for as many soldiers as possible
As a reaction to the Russian war of aggression against Ukraine, Germany has had a combat brigade ready to defend Lithuania since the autumn of last year. It is there with an advanced brigade command post and with material. In the event of tension, this should make it possible to immediately transfer the remaining soldiers. In Lithuania, however, it is being urged that Germany remain present with as many soldiers as possible and in the long term.
Chancellor Olaf Scholz (SPD) and Lithuanian President Gitanas Nauseda agreed in June to station troops in response to Russia’s war of aggression against Ukraine. However, the agreement is interpreted differently. The government in Vilnius assumes that a complete brigade with changing personnel will be stationed in Lithuania. The federal government, on the other hand, has repeatedly stated that it has a combat-ready brigade for Lithuania, stationed partly in the Baltic state and partly in Germany. In the event of a tension, it should be able to be laid quickly and completely within ten days.
“Catching an Eel in the Water with Your Bare Hands”
The question of a permanent presence caused domestic political discussions in Lithuania. Most recently, Nauseda and Foreign Minister Gabrielius Landsbergis, who insisted on a further formalization of the agreement, which the head of state brusquely rejected. In an interview in early March, Landsbergis figuratively compared the situation with the brigade to “catching an eel in the water with your bare hands”. Lithuania must create the infrastructure for the promised German brigade, although there is no definitive answer as to if and when it will arrive in Lithuania.
The German side pointed out that ultimately NATO would first have to make a decision on how protection on the eastern flank of the alliance should look like.
Stronger presence on NATO’s eastern flank
After the Russian annexation of the Ukrainian peninsula of Crimea in 2014, suspicion of Russia grew among NATO’s eastern partners. Even before the Russian attack on Ukraine a year ago, NATO was therefore increasing its presence along its eastern flank. The multinational formations should make it clear that an attack would be answered by the entire alliance. Germany leads the battle group in Lithuania (“framework nation”) and also provides tanks, self-propelled howitzers and anti-aircraft systems.
An exercise in which Lithuanian and German soldiers practice defense against an aggressor is due to be completed this week. The soldiers from Germany had been transferred to the Baltic States since February 20 – by sea, road march through Poland and by plane. The conclusion is a so-called combat shooting, in which “live shots” are practiced for 72 hours.
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