Too little help for the Baltic states
The German concept of the East Wing has met with criticism
In view of the Russian offensive war in Ukraine, NATO’s military presence in the Baltic states is to be strengthened. Germany proposes the principle of rotation with hundreds of Bundeswehr soldiers – this idea is not very popular in the Baltic states.
To discourage Russia, NATO wants to move even more troops to eastern member countries. However, the German concept of strengthening the so-called Eastern Wing met with criticism at a meeting of defense ministers in Brussels. The Bundeswehr could therefore take command of a “combat brigade” in Lithuania with about 1,500 soldiers, but this is not always present. The Baltic states are pushing for more support.
While Chancellor Olaf Scholz was visiting Ukraine with French President Emmanuel Macron and Italian Prime Minister Mario Draghi, defense ministers were preparing for the NATO summit in Madrid on 29 and 30 June. In Brussels, Federal Defense Minister Christine Lambrecht presented Germany’s plans to strengthen NATO’s presence in the Baltic states. She is convinced that they could be a model for other countries in the alliance.
Germany relies on the principle of rotation
According to the German proposal, other units should rotate on the basis of exercises on the ground, but most of the reinforcements should be located in their home countries. These additional units could then be “moved very quickly,” Lambrecht said. In addition, armored vehicles and other military equipment are to be relocated to the east of the Alliance and basic command structures are to be established.
NATO Secretary General Jens Stoltenberg and US Secretary of Defense Lloyd Austin responded positively to the German proposal. Stoltenberg said “surely we will agree on this concept of troops by the summit.” Based on the German proposal, he expects a number of military commitments. Austin said the German model “would make it much easier to move forces forward.” He added: “We are not focusing on troops on the ground, we are focusing on capabilities.”
“I need combat forces on the spot”
On the contrary, criticism has come from the Baltic states, which see Ukraine as another potential target for Russian attacks. They are constantly demanding more troops in the east. Latvian Defense Minister Artis Pabriks told AFP the German proposal that at least 80 percent of the additional troops would have to be stationed in the Baltic states. “We need combat force in place,” he stressed. “Then the proposal would be perfectly acceptable to us.”
British Secretary of Defense Ben Wallace also expressed reservations. The German approach “does not differ significantly” from what is already being done, he said in Brussels. However, his country as the leading NATO country in Estonia may do the same.
The battle group is to grow
The new German-led brigade is to be set up as a complement to NATO’s multinational task force, which Germany has been leading in Lithuania for more than five years. The so-called Battlegroup includes about 1,600 soldiers, of which the Bundeswehr now has about a thousand. In addition, Germany wants to contribute “in a four-digit number,” Lambrecht said. If other partners are adequately involved, the new brigade could theoretically make up to 5,000 troops.
The talks were overshadowed by the Turkish blockade of Sweden’s and Finland’s applications for NATO membership. Stoltenberg’s attempts at mediation have not yet brought any breakthrough. In Madrid, US President Joe Biden and others could influence Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan, Brussels said.