German Chancellor Olaf Scholz (SPD) makes a press statement on the frigate "Mecklenburg-Vorpommern" after his visit to the German Navy in Rostock-Warnemünde. © Kay Nietfeld/dpa-Pool/dpa
Seven NATO countries and Sweden share the Baltic Sea with Russia. Can that go well? Provocations are largely absent even after Russia's attack on Ukraine. Chancellor Scholz hopes that it will stay that way. During a visit to the fleet, he gets an idea of the situation.
Rostock – NATO and Russia will test their fleets in the Baltic Sea in parallel over the next two weeks. The US-led maneuver "Baltops" involves 50 ships and boats and 45 aircraft with 6500 soldiers from 19 NATO countries and Sweden. The Russian Baltic Fleet announced its intention to train in parallel with 40 ships, 25 fighter jets and 3500 soldiers. NATO was not officially informed about this beforehand.
However, Chancellor Olaf Scholz (SPD) does not expect the situation between the two sides to escalate as a result of the maneuvers. "I don't have that fear," he said during a visit to the frigate "Mecklenburg-Vorpommern" off the German Baltic Sea coast near Rostock. "It is handled very responsibly on the part of our forces."
Nevertheless, the Federal Chancellor wants the NATO exercise to be understood as a signal of strength to Russia: "Of course, it is also a sign that we are setting the tone here with the manoeuvre, the exercise, namely that we have the strength to organise alliance and national defence. And that's what is understood."
Scholz on the bridge of the "Mecklenburg-Vorpommern"
Scholz got a comprehensive picture of the capabilities of the German Navy for the first time on Monday. To do this, he flew with a helicopter of the type "Sea King" from the naval command in Rostock on the frigate "Mecklenburg-Vorpommern", which at that time was almost 20 kilometers off the beaches of the Mecklenburg Baltic Sea coast. From the bridge, he watched, among other things, how the submarine "U33" appeared and the corvette "Oldenburg" escorted the frigate.
The French naval tanker "Somme" and warships from Spain and Portugal also took part in the four-hour exercise, which was set up especially for the Chancellor. Eurofighter and Tornado fighter jets of the German Air Force thundered several times over the 140-meter-long warship with its crew of more than 200 soldiers.
Scholz was taken to a Bundeswehr minehunter in a rubber dinghy to learn about the protection of critical infrastructure on the seabed. The issue has become more explosive due to the still unsolved attack on the Nord Stream 2 gas pipeline off the Danish island of Bornholm.
Flagship of NATO's spearhead in the Baltic Sea
At the beginning of the year, Germany took over the leadership of NATO's rapid reaction force, in which the navy in the Baltic Sea is also involved. The "Mecklenburg-Vorpommern" is currently the flagship of the so-called spearhead of the military alliance, which is officially called the "Very High Readiness Joint Task Force". The rapid reaction force was set up in the wake of the first major Ukraine crisis since 2014 and has since been a central element of the deterrence strategy against Russia.
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Fancy a voyage of discovery?
After the exercise for the Chancellor, the "Mecklenburg-Vorpommern" will continue eastwards, where it will take part in the "Baltops" maneuver in the next few days. Shortly before the chancellor's visit to the fleet, Russia announced that it would be practicing in the Baltic Sea until June 15 - about the same time that NATO is testing its fleet. "As part of the maneuver, tasks of defense of sea communications and naval bases will be trained," the Russian fleet said in a statement.
Since the beginning of the Russian war of aggression against Ukraine a good 15 months ago, Moscow has rehearsed the case of war several times in the Baltic Sea. Again and again there are problems between NATO and Russia over the Baltic Sea. Both sides accuse each other of violating their own airspace. The naval forces, on the other hand, have so far gotten along comparatively well with each other.
Don't leave room for misunderstandings
"The Baltic Sea is big enough. We are non-confrontational and very transparent," says the commander of the naval forces of the NATO rapid reaction force, Flotilla Admiral Thorsten Marx. "We comply with international rules and norms. And we expect this from the Russian side in the same way." At the moment, there is "a visible effort on the Russian side not to leave room for misunderstandings." But that doesn't mean that it has to be the same tomorrow. "That's why this association is ready for action at any time and also ready to defend itself," Marx emphasized.
According to the admiral, NATO was not informed about the maneuver. Nevertheless, they were not surprised. "Of course, we have a very clear idea of what actions may lead to maneuvering activities." The observations of the past weeks and months would have indicated that the maneuver is taking place. Dpa