Nato would defeat Putin’s troops, German forces chief claims

Nato forces stationed in the Baltics were strong enough to repel a Russian invasion, the general believes
Nato forces stationed in the Baltics are strong enough to repel a Russian invasion, the general believes - AMBER MAYALL/PA

Vladimir Putin’s troops would be defeated by Nato if he dared to launch an attack on Europe’s eastern flank, the chief of the German armed forces has said.

In an interview with The Telegraph, General Carsten Breuer, the Bundeswehr chief of defence, said he had “no doubt” that Germany and other Nato forces stationed in the east could repel Russian soldiers if they invaded neighbouring Baltic states.

He also said he did not expect that Putin would resort to using nuclear weapons strikes in the next stages of the Ukraine war, but called on the British and German armies “to have confidence in each other” through the difficult years ahead, quoting Field Marshal Montgomery.

Gen Breuer’s remarks reflect a major shift in Germany, which for years has been reluctant to play a leading security role in Europe, such as building up its armed forces, due to the country’s Nazi past.

Asked whether German and other Nato forces stationed in the Baltics were strong enough to repel a Russian invasion, General Breuer said: “Yes. I have no doubt of that. But primarily, it is a matter of deterrence. Based on our current assessment, my concern is not so much a Russian invasion in the near future.”

“Rather, in my role as the chief of defence, it is the paramount importance of achieving the readiness of Germany’s armed forces within the next five years. We call this Kriegstüchtigkeit – being ready, capable and willing to fight. We are on the right track,” he said.

He also pointed out that Germany’s army “has ... adapted our training to focus primarily on deployment and to operating on Nato’s eastern flank.”

Russian military build-up

The Baltic states of Estonia, Latvia and Lithuania, which share land borders with Russia, are deeply concerned by Putin’s shift to a wartime economy in which 40 per cent of the national budget is being pumped into the military.

Estonia’s intelligence chief recently warned that Moscow plans to double its troop presence along the frontier with Nato countries, while the Baltic states have announced plans to build 1,000 concrete bunkers near their borders with Russia to deter an invasion.

Boris Pistorius, the German defence minister, has warned that Putin may attack Nato “within five to eight years”, though the risk of an imminent attack is unlikely “for now”.

Donald Trump’s recent comments about encouraging Putin to attack Nato countries who do not meet the alliance’s spending commitments have also caused major concern in Europe, with some questioning whether the US can be relied upon as a security partner.

But Gen Breuer, who took on the role of armed forces chief in March 2023, said the time had come for Germany to be a major defence power in Europe, regardless of whether Mr Trump wins the US elections.

“European countries must carry a greater share,” he said. “Germany is already on the right track. And we will do more in future, whoever wins the US election. We are obliged to increase our efforts in a world characterised by multiple crises. That includes Germany playing a role as a major European power.”

Worst-case scenario

This will involve a major recruitment drive in the Bundeswehr and a potential return to conscription to prepare the armed forces for a “worst-case scenario”, he said.

He also admitted that on the issue of German ammunition production to support Ukraine, “collectively we are not at the level we should be”. He cited the recent construction of a new ammunition factory in northern Germany as a sign that “things are changing”.

Asked about fears that Putin may yet resort to using nuclear weapons in Ukraine, the general responded: “A nuclear escalation would be followed by unseen consequences for Russia. I do not anticipate Putin crossing that line.”

And on the issue of British-German military co-operation, the general borrowed from a speech by Montgomery.

“Today, Field Marshal Montgomery’s words from August 1942 describe our situation well,” he said. “‘We have got to work together; therefore, we must understand each other, and we must have confidence in each other.’ My confidence in Britain is strong. I am looking to the future optimistically.”

This year Germany announced it was set to spend 2 per cent of GDP on defence for the first time since the Cold War, while Mr Pistorius has hinted that Germany may need to go further than that target to guarantee European security.