Germany pledges EU, NATO support for Baltic states
TALLINN, Estonia (AP) — Germany’s foreign minister pledged strong support for the Baltic states Tuesday as concern mounted in the former Soviet republics over Russia’s aggression toward Ukraine, and warned that time was running out to find a diplomatic solution to the crisis.
Frank-Walter Steinmeier said the EU would start preparing further sanctions early next week if there is “no significant change in Russia’s behavior” by the weekend.
“We don’t want a confrontation but Russia’s behavior provokes a preparation for it,” he told reporters in the Estonian capital, but did not elaborate.
Speaking after meeting Estonian Foreign Minister Urmas Paet on the first leg of a visit to Estonia, Latvia and Lithuania, Steinmeier said the situation in the Baltics is “special” because of the sizable ethnic Russian minorities in those countries, which were occupied by the Soviet Union for nearly 50 years until they regained independence in 1991.
He said the Russian aggression was “a common problem for the EU and NATO,” and assured the Baltic nations that the 28-member European bloc and the alliance “will not leave ... the Baltic countries alone.”
Paet accused Moscow of using the Russian population in Crimea as an excuse for aggression.
“Russia has used threat to the Russian minority as a pretext for military invasion of Crimea. This is a fabrication and a false premise, as well as a threat to the whole of Europe,” Paet said.
The Baltic countries, after being forcibly annexed by the Soviet Union briefly in 1940 and then in 1944 until 1991, have viewed Russia’s military moves in Crimea with particular trepidation.
On Saturday, President Barack Obama reaffirmed the United States’ “unwavering commitment” to its collective defense commitments under NATO and support for “our Baltic allies,” in a conference call with the Baltic presidents.
Later Tuesday, Steinmeier met with leaders in Latvia before traveling on to Lithuania.