Rethinking Europe’s security – Foreign Minister Baerbock travels to the Baltic states
Foreign Minister Baerbock with her estonian, latvian and lithuanian counterparts, © Janine Schmitz/photothek.de
Foreign Minister Baerbock will be visiting the three Baltic states of Latvia, Estonia and Lithuania from 20 to 22 April. In view of recent events, the trip is inevitably being held under the shadow of Russia’s war of aggression against Ukraine.
Foreign Minister Baerbock departs on a tour of the Baltic states today. How can Europe’s security architecture be strengthened and realigned in view of the new state of affairs – that is, given Russia's aggression against Ukraine? The aim of her visit is to exchange views with the Baltic partners on the wider European security implications of Russia’s war of aggression against Ukraine.
First stop: Latvia
In Riga, Latvia’s capital, Minister Baerbock will hold political discussions with, among others, Foreign Minister Edgars Rinkēvičs and Prime Minister Krišjānis Kariņš. Also on the agenda in Riga is a meeting with the Foreign Ministers of all three Baltic states. These meetings (called the B3+1) have been held for nearly 30 years now and have taken place more or less annually since 1994. This year, the Russian attack on Ukraine will be the predominant topic of discussion. For people in the Baltic states, the threat posed by Russia has remained ever present: the countries suffered greatly during their occupation by the Soviet Union, which lasted until they regained their independence in 1991. Since Russia’s occupation of Crimea in 2014, people in Riga, Vilnius and Tallinn have looked beyond their countries’ borders with their two neighbours Belarus and Russia with ever greater concern.
At the meeting, Foreign Minister Annalena Baerbock will underscore that Germany stands shoulder to shoulder with the people in the Baltic states. NATO's presence in the region has been reinforced since Russia attacked Ukraine. For five years now, Germany has led NATO’s enhanced Forward Presence battlegroup in Lithuania and currently has more than 900 German servicemen and -women in the country. In late March, additional air defence capabilities were deployed there – and Germany is prepared to further step up its participation in collective defence.
Security in Europe also means that European states must reduce their dependence on energy from Russia. Foreign Minister Baerbock will therefore also discuss energy supply and renewable energy with her Baltic counterparts. Especially with regard to wind power, there is significant potential for jointly advancing and further accelerating the shift to green energy.
Prior to her departure, Minister Baerbock said:
We will adjust European and transatlantic security policy in order to take into account the new realities. With this war, we Europeans in particular must take a clear stance. Germany will make good on its word: the billions we’ve pledged to spend on Germany’s security and defence structures will be used to enhance both our European and transatlantic defence and deterrence capabilities. We will defend every square centimetre of our Allied territory, no matter what.
While in Riga, Foreign Minister Baerbock will also have an exchange of views with representatives from civil society, as well as visit the NATO Strategic Communications Centre of Excellence in Riga. Both of these stops are meant to address the danger posed by and practical measures for countering Russian propaganda and disinformation.
Second stop: Estonia
The next stop on the trip will be Tallinn, Estonia’s capital, where the Minister is due to arrive on Thursday. Estonia and Germany have strong historical ties thanks to the Baltic Germans, who lived there from the 13th century up until the Second World War. To this day, there is a strong local interest in the German language and German culture. Outranked only by English, Germany is the second most popular foreign language in schools. In addition to the political talks Minister Baerbock will hold with her counterpart Eva-Maria Liimets and Prime Minister Kaja Kallas, the agenda includes a discussion with pupils at Tallinna Saksa Gümnaasium, a German partner school. Not only do these young people embody the future of Estonian-German relations, they also form the foundation of a strong, free and peaceful Europe.
Afterwards, Foreign Minister Baerbock will visit the Victims of Communism Memorial. It commemorates the 75,000 Estonian women and men who were arrested, deported or murdered during the 51 years of Soviet occupation.
Third stop: Lithuania
The Foreign Minister’s final stop during her trip will be Vilnius, the capital of Lithuania. In addition to political talks with Lithuania’s President Gitanas Nausėda and her counterpart Gabrielius Landsbergis, Foreign Minister Baerbock will visit the country’s NATO enhanced Forward Presence battlegroup.
For five years now, in the Lithuanian city of Rukla, Germany has led the NATO enhanced Forward Presence (eFP) battlegroup as its assigned framework nation. This multinational battalion was established in early 2017. At the time, NATO began deploying troops to Poland and the three Baltic states in response to the threat posed by Russia following its annexation of Crimea and destabilisation of Ukraine. Hundreds of German servicemen and ‑women are deployed as a defensive force to Rukla, Lithuania, sending the signal that NATO will jointly defend its Allied territory.
Foreign Minister Baerbock underscored the following prior to her departure:
In Lithuania, the Federal Armed Forces have already assumed the lead role in NATO’s enhanced Forward Presence. We are prepared to step up our engagement even more.