Germany’s Angela Merkel has promised the Baltic states that NATO would defend them, although it would not send permanent combat troops but would increase maneuvers in the region.

Latvia, Estonia and Lithuania — former Soviet republics with their own Russian-speaking minorities — are increasingly anxious that the conflict in Ukraine and Russia’s annexation of Crimea could herald destabilization in their own region by Moscow.

The Baltic states have asked for an increased NATO presence to reinforce Article 5 of the alliance’s constitution, which states that an attack on one of its members is an act of aggression against all, obliging them to react.

“I want to stress that …Article 5 of the NATO contract — the duty to provide mutual support — is not something which just exists on paper, but is also something which must be filled with life,” Merkel said Monday on a visit to the Latvian capital, Riga.

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