Lithuania wants permanent German brigade, Germany says it's 'up to NATO'

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By Sabine Siebold and Andrius Sytas

PABRADE TRAINING GROUND, Lithuania (Reuters) -A decision on a permanent deployment of a German brigade to Lithuania will be "up to NATO", German Defence Minister Boris Pistorius said on Tuesday in response to calls by Vilnius for a larger NATO presence in the country.

"This is not down to who wants what - or who wants to provide what - but rather up to NATO," Pistorius told reporters at the drills of hundreds of German troops in Lithuania.

Since 2017, Germany has led an international battalion with some 1,500 troops in Lithuania as part of a NATO effort to deter Russia from attacking the Baltic region, seen as one of the weakest spots in the alliance's eastern flank.

Berlin also has a brigade of some 3,000 to 5,000 troops on standby in Germany, which it says could be deployed to Lithuania within 10 days if needed.

But Lithuania wants the brigade to be deployed on its soil, on a permanent basis, Defence Minister Arvydas Anusauskas said.

"The defence strategy of the Baltic states cannot rely only on reinforcements. It has to also rely on trustworthy in-place capabilities. Our geography demands it," he told reporters after meeting Pistorius.

There have been concerns, however, that any permanent deployments would be costly and deprive NATO of the flexibility to freely move troops to other locations along its eastern flank.

Pistorius said NATO still had to present its so-called regional plans, documents that will spell out the alliance's adapted defence planning in reaction to Russia's invasion of Ukraine and which are expected to be submitted in the coming weeks.

The issue will be discussed at the NATO summit in Vilnius in July, Pistorius said.

"And we will discuss what makes more sense militarily: To have a brigade deployed permanently here in Lithuania...or whether it makes more sense militarily to remain flexible."

(Reporting by Sabine Siebold and Andrius Sytas, Editing by Friederike Heine, Angus MacSwan and Sharon Singleton)