BERLIN (Reuters) - Nearly three quarters of Germans would oppose NATO having permanent NATO military bases in eastern Europe as requested by Poland and the Baltic states because of a perceived threat from Russia, according to a new poll released on Wednesday.
Poland, Estonia, Lithuania and Latvia - all former members of the Soviet bloc - have been among the loudest voices calling for tough sanctions on Russia for the annexation of the Crimean peninsula and have expressed concern about their own borders.
They count on the Western military alliance for support and have called for a bigger and in some cases a permanent NATO presence. Estonian Prime Minister Taavi Roivas told Reuters last week that Western allies must “open your eyes” to the threat.
Russia is an important trading partner for Germany and the source of more than a third of its gas - a relationship that has encouraged caution in Chancellor Angela Merkel’s response.
But Germans are also have a broader distaste for overseas military actions, as demonstrated by a separate Forsa poll for Stern magazine in which 71 percent of people opposed sending German troops abroad even when diplomacy or sanctions fail.
NATO has tripled the number of fighter jets based in the Baltics and NATO’s top military commander, U.S. Air Force General Philip Breedlove, said last month NATO would have to consider permanently stationing troops in eastern Europe.
But some NATO allies argue that permanent basing of large numbers of troops in the former Soviet bloc is too expensive, not a military necessity and needlessly provocative to Moscow.
Poland wants NATO to base troops on its territory but Moscow says this would violate Russia’s 1997 agreement with NATO.
In the Forsa poll for the Internationale Politik magazine’s latest edition due on Friday, 74 percent of people surveyed were against the idea while only 18 percent supported it. Opposition to permanent NATO bases in eastern Europe was higher in former communist eastern Germany, Forsa said.
Reporting by Stephen Brown; Editing by Louise Ireland