TRONDHEIM, Norway – NATO’s top civilian leader brushed aside comments from Germany’s foreign minister that accused the alliance of “warmongering,” saying the 28-nation bloc needed both a military response and a political dialogue in dealing with Russia.
Secretary General Jens Stoltenberg spoke on June 20, a day after the remarks from German Foreign Minister Frank-Walter Steinmeier were published in the German tabloid Bild am Sonntag.
With major NATO war games going on in Poland and Lithuania, and a NATO summit scheduled for early next month in Warsaw, Steinmeier’s criticism sparked fears that Germany’s ruling coalition might be diverging in its approach to Moscow. Steinmeier, a Social Democrat, suggested NATO was “inflaming the situation by warmongering and stomping boots."
Speaking to RFE/RL in the Norwegian port of Trondheim ahead of a multinational NATO naval exercise, Stoltenberg argued that the alliance was united in its need for a dual-track approach to Russia.
“We need a strong defense to prevent conflicts but we also need political dialogue to reduce tensions,” he said. “All 28 allies are behind this dual-track approach and I welcome both Germany's strong support for the dialogue effort but also Germany's contribution to our increased military presence in the east.”
A dual-track approach is “something which is also very much in line with what has been the message from Germany in NATO for many, many years,” he said.
The alliance earlier this month conducted war games in Poland and Lithuania which were among the largest since the end of the Cold War. The exercises featured 31,000 troops from 24 NATO and partner nations, including Germany.
Germany is slated to head one of the four battalions that the alliance will deploy in Estonia, Latvia, Lithuania, and Poland, a move aimed at easing fears among eastern alliance members after the Russian annexation of Crimea in 2014 and the war in eastern Ukraine.
The final decision about the bulking up NATO's eastern flank will come at the summit in Warsaw on July 8-9. Some officials and experts fear that will trigger some sort of response by Russia.
Russia has already threatened to deploy a sophisticated ballistic missile system called Iskander to the Baltic Sea exclave of Kaliningrad. That would directly threaten most of the three Baltic states, as well as much of Poland.
Stoltenberg refused to answer questions on whether Iskanders had already been sent to Kaliningrad but noted that Moscow had engaged in a military build-up from the Barents Sea to the Eastern Mediterranean for years now.
“I can only say that we have seen a more assertive Russia, which has tripled defense spending since 2000, which has acquired new and more modern different capabilities and which has been willing to use military force against an independent country, Ukraine, and all of this is the reason why we are strengthening our collective defense,” he said.