German Foreign Minister Sigmar Gabriel on Thursday criticized Russia’s military build-up on its borders with the Baltic states as irrational and said Germany would keep troops in the region for as long as needed.
Gabriel visited about 400 German soldiers stationed in Rukla, Lithuania, as part of a German-led battle group of 1,000 troops that will be joined this year by U.S.-led forces in Poland, British-led soldiers in Estonia and Canadian-led troops in Latvia.
NATO is expanding its presence in the region to levels unprecedented since the Cold War, prompted by Russia’s annexation of Crimea and accusations – denied by Moscow – that it is supporting a separatist conflict in eastern Ukraine.
The NATO presence will swell further for exercises this summer, but is still dwarfed by the Russian military build-up, U.S. officials say.
“The military potential that the Russian Federation has built up here at the border is completely irrational in my view because there is zero threat emanating from these countries,” Gabriel told reporters.
Gabriel gave no further details, but said the German troops would remain at the Lithuanian base “as long as needed”. Russia has said it has noticed German soldiers deploying along its borders for the first time since World War Two and said it views the deployment of NATO troops .