NATO presence in Baltics sends clear signal, Lithuania says

February 7, 2017
German Defense Minister Ursula von der Leyen, right, and Lithuania's Presidend Dalia Grybauskaite speaks with a soldier during the NATO enhanced forward presence battalion welcome ceremony at the Rukla military base some 130 km (80 miles) west of the capital Vilnius, Lithuania, Tuesday, Feb. 7, 2017. The NATO enhanced forward presence battalion in Lithuania will be led by framework nation Germany. (AP Photo/Mindaugas Kulbis)

VILNIUS, Lithuania (AP) — More than 1,000 NATO soldiers being stationed in Lithuania sends a clear signal that the alliance stands “strong and united” in the Baltics in the face of Russian aggression, the Lithuanian president said Tuesday.

Dalia Grybauskaite said that Lithuania has “never before” seen “forces of such size and integrity” deployed in one of NATO’s easternmost countries close to key Russian exclave Kaliningrad.

At last year’s NATO summit in Warsaw, the alliance decided to deploy forces in the countries bordering Russia and Belarus. After Russia displayed its might in Georgia and Ukraine in recent years, there is a fear in Baltic countries and Poland that other ex-Soviet republics could be next.

Germany will lead the multinational unit of more than 1,000 soldiers that will be based near Kaliningrad with a navy base and long-range missiles. NATO battle groups are also being stationed in Poland, Latvia and Estonia as part of an alliance mission as countries in the region fear a resurgent Russia.

The buildup “sends a very clear and important message to all that NATO stands strong and united,” Grybauskaite said Tuesday.

“The battalion arrives to the right place at the right time. Because we do see the aggressive militarization of the Kaliningrad region. It’s on our border,” Grybauskaite said, adding “This means this is a threat to (the whole) alliance, and Europe.”

She spoke at a ceremony attended by German Defense Minister Ursula von der Leyen to welcome a German battalion.

“Soldiers from Belgium, the Netherlands, Norway, Luxembourg, Czech Republic and Germany will stand side by side with our American friends, to defend your borders,” von der Leyen said.

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