It is an announcement with which Olaf Scholz wants to calm down not only in Eastern Europe. It should also be well received in the USA. Shortly before his departure for Washington, the Chancellor im ARD-Interview let it be known that the Bundeswehr could definitely increase the number of soldiers stationed in the Baltic States. “We are ready to do whatever is necessary to strengthen that,” said Scholz. He will speak to the heads of state and government of Estonia, Latvia and Lithuania, who are traveling to Berlin on Thursday.
Also the Washington Post the chancellor gave an interview. And it served the same purpose as his television appearance. Scholz wants to dispel the impression that Germany is doing too little in the NATO defense alliance. An impression that has stuck on both sides of the Atlantic. Scholz pointed out that Germany had the “largest defense budget in continental Europe” and also emphasized its commitment in the Baltic States: “We have stationed hundreds of soldiers in Lithuania, where we have taken over the management of the NATO program Enhanced Forward Presence (EFP). .” The Air Force regularly participates in the surveillance of the Baltic airspace and will continue to do so in the future.
“Increased Forward Presence” is the name of the NATO mission in the Baltic States
“Increased Forward Presence” is the name of the EFP program in the German Armed Forces. It was decided at the NATO summit in Warsaw in 2016 to show solidarity with Eastern Europeans. In 2014, Russia supported separatists in eastern Ukraine and illegally annexed the Ukrainian peninsula of Crimea. That had led to a rethinking in NATO. After years of crisis operations and the hope of having a “strategic partner” in Russia, the alliance has again focused on deterrence, national defense and the protection of its members. The current situation shows how important this turnaround was: There are more than 115,000 Russian soldiers ready for action on the borders with Ukraine.
In 2017, a multinational combat unit was stationed in Poland and the Baltic republics. So far, it has usually comprised between 1,000 and 1,200 soldiers. In addition to tanks, this also includes anti-aircraft and reconnaissance units. Because the NATO-Russia Founding Act of 1997 does not allow permanent stationing of NATO troops in Eastern Europe, the staff rotates every six months.
It is clear to everyone that an attack cannot be stopped with every 1,000 foreign soldiers. However, the alliance wants to signal to Russian President Vladimir Putin that an attack on the Baltic States and Poland would also affect soldiers from North America and Western Europe. In December, Defense Minister Christine Lambrecht (SPD) chose Lithuania as the destination of her first trip abroad in her new post to show how close NATO is. The Bundeswehr is conducting the mission from the small town of Rukla. The approximately 500 Germans are joined by soldiers from Belgium, the Czech Republic, Iceland, Luxembourg, Norway and the Netherlands. For Poland, Latvia and Estonia, the USA, Canada and Great Britain have taken the lead. But that’s not enough for Poland and the Baltic republics. Politicians and experts from all four countries are demanding publicly an increase in NATO troops. Especially since around 30,000 Russian soldiers with heavy equipment are in neighboring Belarus, allegedly for training purposes.
The reinforcement of the German contingent brought up by the Chancellor would not come particularly quickly: The USA has already transferred another 1,700 soldiers to Poland. Great Britain had already announced at the end of January that To send 900 additional soldiers to Estonia. Canada is also considering to increase the previous number of 600 soldiers.
The Lithuanians would prefer a permanent US presence
Finally, on Monday afternoon in Munster, Defense Minister Lambrecht gave specific figures. The Federal Republic will send 350 more soldiers to Lithuania to show: “You can rely on us.” The total strength should soon be around 900 Bundeswehr soldiers. Tobias Lindner, Minister of State in the Foreign Office, already had a similar size on Deutschlandfunk spoken. The cabinet would have to agree to such an increase; a mandate from the Bundestag is not required. Because the EFP program has the “character of a military exercise” on the territory of a NATO ally the scientific services of the Bundestag identified in February 2020.
Lithuania’s army chief Valdemaras Rupšys stated in Vilnius on Monday that there is currently “neither a tactical nor an operational direct threat” to his country from Russia. Nevertheless, concerns in the Baltic States and calls for more support are unlikely to go away. After a visit to the NATO headquarters in Brussels, several Lithuanian MPs said at the end of January Süddeutsche Zeitungthat so far only about 20 percent of the permitted international soldiers are stationed within the framework of the EFP program. They have much more concrete wishes: “The troops should ideally be permanently stationed with us, and there should be Americans among them.” This fits with a widespread assessment in Eastern Europe, which Estonia’s Prime Minister Kaja Kallas recently repeated in interviews: “The best deterrent against Russia is an American flag.”