BERLIN/RIGA (Reuters) - German Foreign Minister Frank-Walter Steinmeier downplayed a magazine report on Saturday of tensions with NATO over hawkish comments about Ukraine made by the Western alliance’s supreme allied commander.
Der Spiegel news magazine said an official in Chancellor Angela Merkel’s offices had complained of Air Force General Philip Breedlove’s “dangerous propaganda” over Ukraine and that Steinmeier had talked to the NATO General Secretary about him.
“It’s true that I asked in two instances, in which the information we had from our sources was not entirely consistent with the information that came from the United States or NATO,” Steinmeier said at a European Union foreign ministers meeting.
“But I also say that we have no interest in any dispute emerging from this,” Steinmeier said at the meeting in Riga. “We have to see that we stay closely together, also in the question of assessment of risk, and not differ in our advice.”
Der Spiegel said German government officials were surprised when Breedlove said on Feb. 25 that Russian President Vladimir Putin had “upped the ante” in eastern Ukraine. “What is clear is that right now it is not getting better. It is getting worse every day,” Breedlove said in Washington.
German officials said information from their BND intelligence agency and other sources was that a ceasefire agreed in Minsk was shaky but holding. The battles between the Ukraine army and pro-Russian separatists had mostly halted and heavy weapons were being withdrawn.
When asked about the Der Spiegel report, Breedlove said in a statement: “It is my responsibility as the commander of NATO’s military forces to deliver clear assessments regarding potential threats in our periphery.
“Sometimes realities on the ground are unwelcome and sobering. But public communication has been critical during the Ukraine crisis, because Russia has embarked on a deliberate strategy to confuse using disinformation and propaganda.”
Breedlove said much of his information comes from military and civilian experts from 33 NATO member and partner nations. He said NATO’s assessments are shared and intelligence agencies are encouraged to offer alternative analysis.
“So it is to be expected that these assessments do not always exactly match the assessments of individual nations. However, the overall conclusions generated by military analysts from NATO and from individual nations share a great deal of common ground. It is normal that not everyone agrees with the assessments that I provide.”
Additional reporting by Adrian Croft in Riga; writing by Erik Kirschbaum; editing by David Clarke