German Foreign Minister Sigmar Gabriel has described a military buildup by Russia along its borders with the Baltic states as "completely irrational" and has vowed to keep German forces in the region as long as necessary.
Speaking during a March 2 visit to Lithuania's Rukla military base, where about 400 German soldiers are stationed, Gabriel said "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."
The German troops are part of a 1,000-soldier battle group that eventually is to be integrated with U.S., British, French, Canadian, and other NATO forces.
Gabriel said the German troops will remain at the Lithuanian base "as long as needed" but did not provide further details.
NATO countries have been increasing force deployments in the Baltics to reassure allies about support from the alliance in the face of aggressive actions by Russia since early 2014 when the Kremlin seized and illegally annexed Ukraine’s Crimea region and began supporting pro-Russia separatists in eastern Ukraine.
Moscow has defended its troop movements near the Baltic borders, saying they are defensive in nature and part of efforts to modernize its overall forces.
In a statement on March 2, Russian Foreign Ministry spokeswoman Maria Zakharova described the arrival of U.S. troops in the region as "dubious" and "provocative actions."
"It could not escape us that the U.S. troops that recently arrived in Poland and the Baltic states have already managed to mark themselves...with a clear anti-Russian focus," Zakharova said in a statement.
Another German official, Defense Minister Ursula von der Leyen, told reporters at an air base in Amari, Estonia, that the Baltic states and other countries can "rely" on support from Germany.
"Estonia, and our friends from Lithuania, Latvia and Poland, can rely on us," von der Leyen said. "We Germans know what it means to be at the eastern border and to have the solid protection of the alliance."
Gabriel and von der Leyen both have also discussed concerns about Russia's growing disinformation and cybercampaigns described under Russia's military doctrine as "hybrid warfare."
"No one expects a real military confrontation to happen here," Gabriel said on March 2.
"But what there is, and what has been reported in Lithuania, Latvia, and Estonia, are attempts at massive disinformation and influence campaigns," Gabriel said.
With reporting by Reuters, Interfax and dw.com