Federal Chancellor Olaf Scholz has arrived in Lithuania for a visit. The SPD politician was received in the capital Vilnius by President Gitanas Nauseda. This was followed by a meeting with the heads of government of all three Baltic states. In addition to Lithuania, this also includes Latvia and Estonia.
When he arrived, however, it was initially about Spain: Referring to a corresponding report in the newspaper “El País”, Scholz explained that Spain had not yet made any request for the export of German-made Leopard 2 tanks to Ukraine. If there is another such application, it will be examined, he said.
According to the report, Spain wants to deliver German Leopard 2 A4 main battle tanks to Ukraine. As a rule, the federal government has to approve such arms exports because the purchase contracts contain so-called end-use clauses that provide for this in the event of a transfer.
A delivery of Leopard 2 would be the first time that Ukraine would receive modern western tanks in a fight against the Russian army. In Germany, politicians from the ruling SPD party have so far emphasized that there is an informal agreement between the NATO countries not to supply such weapons. According to the newspaper report, around 40 of the 108 Leopard tanks that Spain bought used in Germany in 1995 could be made operational again.
During talks with Lithuanian President Nauseda, Scholz promised Lithuania additional military support to deter and defend against a possible Russian attack. “We have made it clear that we will increase our contribution,” said Scholz. The German commitment should be developed “in the direction of a robust combat brigade”.
“As allies in NATO, we feel obliged to each other and we will defend every inch of NATO territory in the event of an attack,” said Scholz. The Chancellor initially did not give details of the increased German commitment.
A German-led NATO battalion with 1,600 soldiers is currently stationed in Lithuania, more than 1,000 of whom belong to the Bundeswehr. A brigade usually consists of around 3,000 to 5,000 soldiers.
The Baltic states have been pushing for a NATO brigade to be stationed in each of the three countries for a long time. However, it is unclear how many soldiers are actually to be stationed on site and how many are to be kept ready outside.
Latvia’s President Egils Levits had previously stated that he was hoping for “concrete proposals” for stronger protection of the eastern NATO alliance area from the Scholz visit. “We expect that Germany will also have the overall security of NATO in mind and will therefore also support this increase in NATO’s presence in all three Baltic states,” Levits told dpa. “The Baltic States and Germany agree that NATO’s eastern flank must be strengthened in response to Russia’s aggressive behavior.”
With Lithuania, Scholz is visiting a NATO country for the first time since the beginning of the Ukraine war that borders Russia and feels particularly threatened by the nuclear power. In the capital, Vilnius, he will meet Nauseda, the heads of government of all three Baltic states – Estonia, Lithuania and Latvia. The Chancellor then visits the Bundeswehr soldiers who are stationed in Lithuania to secure NATO’s eastern flank.
At the military training area near Prabade, which is less than 200 kilometers as the crow flies from the Russian exclave of Kaliningrad, Scholz will also get an idea of the equipment used by the Bundeswehr, which includes armored personnel carriers and battle tanks, heavy artillery and reconnaissance drones. At the NATO summit in Madrid from June 28th to 30th, the focus will be on how far the NATO troops on the eastern flank will be increased again.
During her visit to Lithuania in April, Foreign Minister Annalena Baerbock had already pledged Germany to make a “substantial contribution” to expanding the NATO troops in the east. “We must be able to practically defend every square inch of our common alliance territory, that is, the Baltic States. From the very first minute,” said the Green politician.
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The NATO reinforcement force, which also includes soldiers from seven other European countries, had already been increased from around 1,200 to around 1,600 soldiers in the wake of the Ukraine crisis.
Along with Latvia, Estonia, Poland and Norway, Lithuania is one of the five NATO countries that share a land border with Russia. With Finland, a sixth could soon be added. Missiles are stationed in the Russian exclave of Kaliningrad that can reach the entire Baltic region, all of Poland and even Berlin.
Protection against the Russian threat will not be the only topic of Scholz’s visit. Support for Ukraine in the fight against Russian invaders and the country’s European perspective will also be discussed. While the Baltic states are in favor of making Ukraine a candidate for EU membership, the German government has not yet made a decision.
Scholz first wants to take care of the admission of the accession candidates in the Balkans. With regard to Ukraine, he emphasizes that there should be no short cuts on the way to the EU for the country.
French President Emmanuel Macron has suggested new forms of cooperation with countries like Ukraine because EU membership is not achievable within a few years. Nauseda has expressed skepticism about this. “I get the impression that this is an attempt to cover up the apparent lack of political will to make decisions about granting candidate status.”
For Ukraine, candidate status has the highest priority when it comes to demands from the EU – in addition to arms deliveries for the fight against the Russian attackers. The small Baltic states sent arms to Ukraine early on and have repeatedly criticized Germany for being too reluctant to provide military aid. “We are 65 times smaller than Germany. And we have provided six times more military aid than Germany,” said Estonian Prime Minister Kaja Kallas during a visit to Berlin at the end of April.