German Defence Minister Christine Lambrecht said on Sunday that Russia cannot “dictate” to Nato on regional security, as tensions soar between Moscow and Western capitals over the conflict in Ukraine.
Lambrecht spoke during a visit to German troops based in Lithuania to deter a Russian attack. The ex-Soviet state is worried about security after Russia amassed tens of thousands of troops near its border with Ukraine, once also part of the Soviet Union.
On Friday, Moscow set out a list of demands for the West that includes withdrawing Nato battalions from former Soviet states Poland, Estonia, Latvia and Lithuania.
“We have to resolve the tense situation we are in now both diplomatically and with credible deterrence,” Lambrecht told reporters.
“We have to talk with each other, which means discussing the proposals that Russia has put forward. That is right and important,” she added at Lithuania’s Rukla military base. “But it cannot be that Russia dictates to Nato partners how they position themselves.”
Russia is also demanding a legally binding guarantee that Nato will give up any military activity in Eastern Europe and Ukraine and an effective Russian veto on future Nato membership for Ukraine – which the West has already ruled out.
The trip is Lambrecht’s first since being named defence minister, after new German Chancellor Olaf Scholz’s Social Democrats formed a coalition government with the Greens and the liberal FDP earlier this month.
Germany’s combat units in Lithuania, deployed three years after Moscow’s annexation of the Ukrainian peninsula Crimea in 2014, are meant to stall an assault and buy time for additional Nato troops to arrive at the frontline.
Lambrecht met with her Lithuanian counterpart Arvydas Anusauskas, who said that “Russia has mobilised forces in the Kaliningrad region that are 10 times larger than the battalion deployed in Rukla.”
“In this situation, Russia’s demands that weaken the security of our countries are simply impossible to implement. I think they need to be rejected,” he told reporters.
Around 550 German troops are stationed at Lithuania’s Rukla military base as Germany leads the multinational battalion in the country.
The West has threatened Russia with harsh sanctions should its soldiers enter Ukraine.
Ahead of her visit, Lambrecht called for harsher sanctions against Russia over its troop deployment.
Those responsible for any aggression had to face “personal consequences”, she told German weekly Bild am Sonntag, adding that Germany and its allies should put Russian President Vladimir Putin and his entourage “in our sights”.
“We have to exhaust all the diplomatic and economic sanction possibilities. And all further steps should be agreed with our allies,” she said.
In the wake of Ukraine discussions by EU leaders in Brussels last week, Lithuanian President Gitanas Nauseda said the current regional security situation is “probably … the most dangerous it’s been in 30 years”.