FRANKFURT, Germany (AP) — Germany's foreign minister has warned against relying on "saber-rattling" in the wake of military exercises aimed at demonstrating NATO's resolve to defend members in eastern Europe against Russia if that becomes necessary.
Frank-Walter Steinmeier was quoted by the Bild newspaper's website Saturday as saying that a "symbolic tank parade on the eastern border of the alliance" would not ensure security.
He argued for "embedding Russia in an international partnership of responsibility" through cooperation on arms control, the Middle East, and efforts to keep Iran from developing nuclear weapons.
Some 31,000 troops from 24 NATO members — including Germany — rehearsed defensive operations in Poland and Lithuania last week, joined also by some partner nations.
Russia's conflict with non-NATO member Ukraine has led to financial sanctions against Moscow and more attention to military readiness, but Western governments sometimes differ on how tough a stance to take.
The 28 European Union member countries last week extended for another year sanctions imposed on Russia over its annexation of Ukraine's Crimea region barring imports from there. A different and tougher set of sanctions limiting Russian companies' access to Western capital markets is up for renewal in coming days. The EU and U.S. have said lifting the sanctions depends on implementation of a peace deal agreed in 2015.
Alexey Pushkov, the head of the foreign affairs committee in the lower house of Russian parliament, the State Duma, hailed Steinmeier's comment as a "voice of reason" amid what he called anti-Russian hysteria promoted by NATO and its secretary-general, former Norwegian Prime Minister Jens Stoltenberg.
"Steinmeier spoke against Stoltenberg's course for scaring Russia. Some voices of reason could be heard from behind the curtain of threats and hysterics," Pushkov tweeted.
President Vladimir Putin, speaking Friday at an economic forum in St. Petersburg, said that the U.S. and its allies have used the Ukrainian crisis to "justify the existence of the North Atlantic bloc."
"They need an external adversary, an external enemy, otherwise what's the purpose of this organization?" he said. "There is no Warsaw Pact, no Soviet Union, so whom is it directed against?
AP staff writer Vladimir Isachenkov contributed from Moscow.