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The U.S. has around 34,500 soldiers stationed in Germany.
The U.S. has around 34,500 soldiers stationed in Germany.

The German government says it has received formal notification of a possible partial withdrawal of U.S. troops stationed in the country, a move that some worry sends the wrong signal to Russia and damages NATO security.

The June 10 announcement follows media reports that U.S. President Donald Trump had ordered the withdrawal of up to 15,000 of the approximately 34,500 U.S. soldiers stationed in Germany.

Both the White House and NATO have declined to comment on the media reports.

"The federal government has been informed that there are considerations in the U.S. administration to reduce the presence of the U.S. armed forces in Germany," Chancellor Angela Merkel's spokeswoman Ulrike Demmer told journalists in Berlin.

"As far as we know, there has been no final decision," she added.

Some U.S. lawmakers have warned that if implemented, the reported plan would damage U.S. national security and strengthen Russia’s position in Europe.

The Wall Street Journal reported last week that Trump planned to move forward with the withdrawal of up to 9,500 U.S. personnel, while the German news magazine Der Spiegel said between 5,000 and 15,000 could be withdrawn later this year.

Earlier this week, German Defense Minister Annegret Kramp-Karrenbauer, who is also the leader of Merkel's Christian Democrats (CDU), suggested that if the United States goes ahead, it would do more harm to NATO as a whole than to Germany’s own defense.

"I don't want to speculate on something for which I have no confirmation," she told a news conference on June 8. "The fact is the presence of U.S. troops in Germany serves the entire security of the NATO alliance -- so American security too. That is the basis on which we work together."

Germany hosts more U.S. troops than any other country in Europe.

But transatlantic ties have become strained under Trump, who has repeatedly criticized Germany and other European countries for not fulfilling their NATO commitment to spend 2 percent of economic output on their militaries.

Berlin has pledged to increase military spending, but meeting the NATO target would likely not happen before 2030.

In an open letter dated June 9, 22 Republican members of the U.S. House Armed Services Committee said they were “very concerned about reports that the Administration is considering a significant reduction of U.S. troops currently based in Europe as well as a cap on the total number of U.S. troops which can be present there at any one time.”

“Such steps would significantly damage U.S. national security as well as strengthen the position of Russia to our detriment,” the lawmakers wrote, adding: “In Europe, the threats posed by Russia have not lessened, and we believe that signs of a weakened U.S. commitment to NATO will encourage further Russian aggression and opportunism.”

With reporting by dpa and AFP
Russian President Vladimir Putin and Margarita Simonyan, the chief editor of RT: "We won’t let you change him."
Russian President Vladimir Putin and Margarita Simonyan, the chief editor of RT: "We won’t let you change him."

There was plenty of Champagne and wine flowing in Moscow in the hours after Russia’s polls closed on March 18, as supporters of Vladimir Putin celebrated his reelection to another six-year term as president.

Among those unabashedly singing Putin’s praises was the chief editor of one of Russia’s most prominent news organizations: RT.

In a series of posts to Twitter late on March 18 and early on March 19, Margarita Simonyan, who has headed the state-funded TV channel formerly known as Russia Today since its beginning, made little effort to maintain any sort of journalistic distance from politics.

One post featured a screenshot from state TV, showing Putin speaking to supporters, along with Simonyan.

“Here we are congratulating Putin. And he us,” she wrote.​

Another, posted around the same time, shows Simonyan and Putin’s election campaign spokesman, Andrei Kondrashov, raising glasses of prosecco and wine in celebration of Putin’s victory.

Later posts focused on her interpretation that the results -- which showed Putin winning 76.7 percent of the vote -- showed that Putin was no longer merely Russia’s president but the country’s leader, or chief, she said, using a Russian word often associated with Soviet dictator Josef Stalin.

“Earlier he was simply our president and it was possible to replace him,” she wrote in one post, directed at the West. “And now he is our leader. We won’t let you change him. You have done this with your own hands.”

When she wasn’t praising Putin, Simonyan was burying the West.

She lit into Western leaders, Western reporters, and backers of more financial sanctions against Russia. She castigated supporters of banning Russian athletes from international competitions due to the state-orchestrated doping campaign uncovered during the 2014 Sochi Winter Olympics.

She railed against Western liberal ideals, asserting that Russian voters had rejected them and instead had rallied to something she called “conservative-patriotic, communist and nationalist ideas.”

“We don't want to live like you anymore. For 50 years, secretly and clearly, we wanted to live like you, and we no longer want this. We don't respect you anymore. And everyone you support,” wrote Simonyan, who studied in the United States as a high-school student on a U.S.-government-funded exchange program.

Simonyan has long been known for sharp-tongued barbs directed at the Western media, Kremlin critics, and Putin’s opponents.

The brainchild of Putin’s first press minister, Mikhail Lesin, RT has grown from an upstart, offbeat broadcaster into a sizable TV operation, with programming and publishing in English and five other languages and a $316 million budget from the Russian government, according to its latest figures.

Last year, the outlet’s U.S. division was forced by the U.S. Justice Department to register under a decades-old law known as the Foreign Agents Registration Act.

At the time, the division stated that its parent corporation, known as ANO TV-Novosti, is ”financed by a foreign government, foreign political party, or other foreign principal.”

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