Germany will increase its contribution to NATO's Enhanced Forward Presence (eFP) battalion in Lithuania after passing legislation to increase defense spending, German Chancellor Olaf Scholz said during a visit to Vilnius on Tuesday.
"We are going to increase our contribution by strengthening the eastern flank of NATO. We are going to create a strong brigade and we have discussed that together in our meetings and we are going to have to work towards this direction," Scholz said at a press conference with Baltic and German leaders. No other details were given.
Germany leads the 1,200-strong eFP battlegroup in Lithuania and currently has around 500 soldiers stationed there. A brigade usually consists of between 3,000-5,000 troops.
Last week the German government agreed to increase defense spending by €100 billion which will allow the country to increase its armed forces. The country will aim to spend 2 percent of GDP.
"It will become one of the strongest armed forces in Europe and one of the strongest armed forces in NATO," Scholz told reporters on Tuesday. "By being part of NATO we have made a commitment to defend every centimeter of the territory of the alliance."
Scholz also defended Germany's reaction to Russia's full-scale war in Ukraine saying it is one of the top three countries sending aid to Ukraine, only the U.S. sends more, he said. Germany has also applied all the sanctions agreed by the EU and is seeking alternative sources of oil and gas.
"We expressed our solidarity and we are going to continue to support Ukraine by providing it with arms," he said. "This support will be provided as long as it is necessary, as long as it takes for Russia's aggression to be stopped."
The chancellor added Germany will send howitzers to Ukraine and Ukrainians are currently being trained to use the weapons.
Baltic leaders Prime Minister Kaja Kallas, Lithuanian President Gitanas Nauseda, and Latvian Prime Minister Krišjanis Karinš welcomed Scholz's decision to increase Germany's presence on NATO's eastern flank.
Karinš said Germany's decision helps strengthen security in Estonia and Latvia too, not just in Lithuania.
He said the EU needs to "open the door of opportunity" to Ukraine and said Latvia remembers "very well that such a signal is very important and inspires reforms".
Kallas welcomed Germany's "historic decision" to increase defense spending and meet NATO's 2 percent of GDP spending target. "When Germany is strong, Europe is strong," she said.
Speaking about the upcoming NATO summit in Madrid, she said: "It is clear our defense has to go to a new level. [...] NATO's presence has to be increased in the air, on land and in the navy. [...] The German leadership is going to help in Madrid to adopt the right decisions that are going to ensure NATO's readiness for future challenges."
All four leaders emphasized their solidarity with Ukraine and the unity within EU and NATO. "We must do everything we can to defend our values and peace and stay on the right side of history. We need to act and we need to act now," Nauseda said.
Scholz will also visit German troops stationed in Lithuania during his visit.
The press conference can be watched below.
Editor: Helen Wright