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18 Dec, 2023 15:59

German ‘heavy brigade’ to deploy close to Russia’s border

Defense ministers from Berlin and Vilnius have signed a major military deployment plan
German ‘heavy brigade’ to deploy close to Russia’s border

Germany and Lithuania on Monday signed a roadmap for what is set to become the largest deployment of German troops on foreign soil in the modern era. Under the plan, the 5,000-strong brigade will be stationed less than 20km (12 miles) from the border with Belarus, Moscow’s key ally.

Lithuania also shares a border with Russia’s westernmost exclave, Kaliningrad. 

The agreement was sealed during German Defense Minister Boris Pistorius’ visit to the Baltic nation, where he met with his Lithuanian counterpart, Arvydas Anusauskas. Berlin already leads a multinational NATO advance force stationed in the country and decided to boost its military presence last year.

Pistorius described the future deployment as a way for his nation to “assume leadership responsibility” within the US-led military bloc. Anusauskas pledged to ensure “the best possible conditions for German soldiers and their family members,” which Lithuania will be responsible for.

Germany plans to keep 4,800 troops and 200 civilian specialists in the country on a permanent basis, complete with heavy armaments and support structure. The relocation will start in the second quarter of 2024, with the brigade scheduled to reach full combat readiness by 2027, according to the German Defense Ministry.

Lithuania said most of the foreign troops will be stationed at the Rudninkai training ground in the southeast of the country, close to Belarus. The rest will be hosted by a military facility near the village of Rukla. Vilnius and Kaunas, the cities closest to the base, is where many of the family members of the Germans will be living, the country’s military said.

Lithuania has been developing military infrastructure near Rukla for years. The Enhanced Forward Presence Battlegroup Lithuania, as the NATO force deployed there is called, has been stationed there since 2017 in what the organization claimed to be a “consequence” of Crimea rejoining Russia after a referendum. 

Moscow perceives the movement of NATO capabilities to the east of Europe as provocation and a threat to its national security.

The future German unit is called the heavy 42nd Armored Brigade by the Bundeswehr and will include three combat battalions. Two of them are German-only, and include an armored battalion and a heavy infantry battalion. The third one will be a multinational unit based on the currently deployed force.

The roadmap was signed amid skepticism in Germany over the current state of its military. MP Johann Wadephul warned last month that if an armed conflict broke out today, the country would run out of ammo in two days. Berlin has been the second largest donor of Ukraine in its conflict with Russia, after the US.