Troop visit in Lithuania: Steinmeier’s clear signal on the eastern flank

Status: 05/31/2023 03:39 am

Federal President Steinmeier took members of the Bundeswehr with him to visit the troops in Lithuania. There he paid respects to the families while reaffirming Germany’s support on NATO’s eastern flank.

By Von Vera Wolfskampf and Viktoria Kleber

When Yvonne H. leaves Burg in Saxony-Anhalt to visit her husband in Lithuania, she knows that it will be a special journey for her. Many weeks later she will see her husband again, who is stationed with the NATO troops in Lithuania, and she will be allowed to accompany the Federal President.

Frank-Walter Steinmeier invited her and eleven other relatives. With this, the Federal President wants to set a symbolic signal. At the airport he says thank you and assures the family members that he knows that a lot changes when someone in the family is missing.

difficult distance

Just like with Yvonne H.: The distance has become easier thanks to technology, but there are still moments when she is very lonely. “I’m a mother of three children,” she says. “Everyday life is sometimes difficult.”

Not just for her, says Yvonne. Also for her husband who misses birthdays or achievements at school and cannot be there in difficult moments. “There are many things that he doesn’t notice, like the first steps or the first words.”

But working abroad is part of it. This is how all relatives who accompany the Federal President to Lithuania know it. Landed there at the airport, there are many tears of joy at the first hug for months.

Steinmeier emphasizes alliance responsibility

With this trip, the Federal President not only wants to express respect for the families of soldiers. At the same time, Frank-Walter Steinmeier wants to reassure Lithuania in view of the Russian war of aggression against Ukraine that Germany stands by its responsibility in NATO and in Europe.

“Together we will defend every square centimeter of NATO alliance territory,” said the Federal President at the joint press conference with Lithuanian President Gitanas Nauseda.

Lithuania hopes for more NATO presence

There are currently around 800 German soldiers in Lithuania, and the Bundeswehr is leading a multinational NATO battle group there. Lithuanian President Nauseda would like an even greater presence in order to protect the eastern flank of the alliance even more.

NATO plans to have more rapid deployment troops by 2026. Germany announced last summer that it would have a brigade ready for Lithuania. But how many of the up to 5,000 soldiers should be stationed on site, how many should only be ready for action? The defense ministries of both countries still have to clarify these steps, says Steinmeier. “There is no dispute between the political leadership in Germany and in this country.”

The Bundeswehr protects the NATO partners in the Baltic States, said Defense Minister Pistorius in Lithuania.

Visit to the Pabrade camp

The Lithuanian and German Presidents travel together to the Pabrade camp for combat training. It is 50 kilometers to the border of Belarus, Russia’s ally. The soldiers practice for emergencies – but they are also there to act as a deterrent, so that it doesn’t happen in the first place.

Yvonne stands next to her husband, Thomas, who takes care of logistics. It is not the first time for him that he is stationed abroad. “Certainly we have a threat, that’s clear. But it’s not nearly as bad as Afghanistan,” says Thomas.

A tank battalion from Baden-Württemberg is practicing in Saxony-Anhalt for its deployment in Lithuania.

Hoping for more support

After talking to the soldiers and their relatives, Federal President Steinmeier said: “The support that the relatives show the armed forces, the soldiers, is what the Bundeswehr needs in society as a whole.”

Yvonne would like that too. After the brief reunion, she counts the days backwards: her husband is coming back to Germany at the end of July. Then his unit in Lithuania will be replaced by the next.

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