Germany dismisses suggestions it's soft on Russia

by Reuters
Friday, 28 March 2014 15:12 GMT

* Foreign Minister says there should be no "blame game"

* Steinmeier says NATO partners can count on solidarity

* Report airs suggestions Germany "passive and hesitant"

By Erik Kirschbaum and Hans-Edzard Busemann

BERLIN, March 28 (Reuters) - Germany is not trying to thwart a more forceful NATO reaction to Russia's seizure of Crimea, Foreign Minister Frank-Walter Steinmeier said on Friday in response to a newspaper report.

Brushing aside suggestions aired in the conservative Frankfurter Allgemeine Zeitung (FAZ) that Germany is "passive and hesitant" in NATO, Steinmeier said he had no desire to enter a "blame game" before NATO foreign ministers meet next week.

"I don't understand debates like this taking place in public before the NATO meeting next week," he said when asked about the report, which quoted sources in Brussels as saying Germany had reservations about bolstering NATO in Eastern Europe.

"Naturally the expectations in some countries are a lot higher," Steinmeier added. "We'll make it clear that our NATO partners can count on protection and our solidarity. We'll have a fair discussion in the NATO council next week."

The FAZ article said NATO sources were concerned that Germany appeared to be assuming a role on the sidelines similar to the one it took during the Libya war.

"I don't think much of a public 'blame game' about who is doing more or who is doing less before the NATO (foreign) ministers even have had a chance to look at the facts on the table," Steinmeier said.

"The situation is too serious for anything like this crisis in the middle of Europe. And secondly, for those who really want to get through this situation and the still-apparent risks of an escalation, it's important to have the chance to have this discussion in the NATO council with the necessary seriousness."

U.S. President Barack Obama said on Wednesday in Brussels that NATO needed to boost its presence in eastern European countries, especially the Baltics, that feel vulnerable.

U.S. officials have said the Pentagon will more than double the number of U.S. fighter jets on a NATO air patrol mission in the Baltics and do more training with Poland's air force as it strives to reassure allies alarmed by the crisis in Ukraine.

German Defence Minister Ursula von der Leyen said on Sunday NATO should show greater support for member countries, adding the alliance should be "more than a piece of paper".

But she faced criticism for the remark, especially from Vice Chancellor Sigmar Gabriel of the centre-left Social Democrats. (Reporting by Hans-Edzard Busemann and Erik Kirschbaum; editing by Andrew Roche)

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