Germany mulls military support for NATO's eastern European states

BERLIN Sun Mar 30, 2014 11:11am EDT

German Chancellor Angela Merkel listens to Canadian Prime Minister Stephen Harper (not pictured) during a joint news conference at the Chancellery in Berlin March 27, 2014. REUTERS/Kai Pfaffenbach

German Chancellor Angela Merkel listens to Canadian Prime Minister Stephen Harper (not pictured) during a joint news conference at the Chancellery in Berlin March 27, 2014.

Credit: Reuters/Kai Pfaffenbach

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BERLIN (Reuters) - Germany is considering offering military support to some eastern European members of the NATO defense alliance in response to Russia's seizure of Crimea, news magazine Der Spiegel reported at the weekend.

Germany, whose diplomatic clout falls far short of its economic might on the world stage, has said it wants to take a more active international role and Chancellor Angela Merkel and her foreign minister have been active in trying to resolve the Ukraine crisis.

However, Germany's Nazi past makes military missions overseas a very sensitive subject.

Der Spiegel said the defense ministry was ready to make available up to six aircraft for a strengthened air patrolling mission in parts of eastern Europe. The number of NATO aircraft would be at least doubled, said the magazine.

NATO is expanding its air patrolling mission to reassure eastern members of the alliance following events in Ukraine.

Der Spiegel quoted German Foreign Minister Frank-Walter Steinmeier as saying it was important for NATO to keep a cool head and not get dragged into a military escalation.

"At the same time, our partners know that we stand for solidarity in the alliance with no ifs and buts and not just when the weather suits," der Spiegel quoted.

In response to the report, a defense ministry spokeswoman said any army mission must be first decided by politicians.

But once a political decision had been made "the army could take part in flights to patrol airspace with AWACS machines over Romania and Poland as well as training flights in the framework of a NATO air policing mission over Baltic states", she said.

Denmark will send six F16 fighters to the Baltic countries to help patrol their airspace, Foreign Minister Martin Lidegaard said on Thursday, while officials in France signaled earlier this month it might send four planes to Lithuania if NATO decided to boost air defenses.

U.S. President Barack Obama said earlier this month that NATO needed to boost its presence in eastern European partner states that feel vulnerable to Russia.

(Additional reporting by Sabine Siebold; Writing by Madeline Chambers; Editing by John Stonestreet)

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