RUKLA, LITHUANIA - Germany will invest a total of 110 million euros until 2021 in improving military bases in Lithuania, its defense minister said on Monday, underlining Berlin's continued commitment to the defense of its NATO allies in the Baltic region.
Germany leads a NATO force of 1,200 troops from 10 countries sent to Lithuania two years ago as part of NATO's effort to beef up defenses along eastern Europe's borders with Russia after its 2014 annexation of the Crimea region of Ukraine.
"We want to make clear that Lithuania is not alone and will never stand alone. It will never again have to sacrifice its freedom and independence," Ursula von der Leyen told reporters during a visit to the German forces.
"We will stay here with the Bundeswehr (German armed forces) as long as we're needed, and as long as the security situation requires it."
Von der Leyen said the German deployment had bolstered joint training efforts and improved the ability to deploy on missions if needed.
Germany will invest 50 million euros this year in a joint barracks shared by NATO forces and in other facilities, with spending to total 110 million euros by 2021, she said.
Welcoming her comments, Lithuanian Defense Minister Raimundas Karoblis said: "This is the first time we have heard so clearly and from such a high political level that Germany is here for the long term, until the security situation changes."
Lithuania, a former Soviet republic, joined NATO along with the two other Baltic states Latvia and Estonia and a number of other ex-communist nations in 2004.
The three Baltic states, which were forcibly annexed by the Soviet Union in 1940 and secured their independence only with the fall of communism, were rattled by Russia's annexation of Crimea and its support for pro-Moscow separatists in eastern Ukraine.