BERLIN -- Germany's prompt diplomatic recognition of the Baltic states yesterday marks an abrupt change of tactics for the government, which had been under fire at home for its relatively passive foreign policy.
The sudden recognition of Estonia, Latvia and Lithuania put Germany in the unusual position of acting before the United States or its other major allies.
German Foreign Minister Hans-Dietrich Genscher then went to a meeting of European Community foreign ministers and successfully argued for the community's recognition of the three republics.
In addition, Germany pressed ahead with unusual vigor on other fronts. It threatened to recognize the independence of the Yugoslav republic of Croatia unless Serbian attacks stop, and it told France and Britain that it would not welcome new short-range nuclear missiles and artillery on its territory.
Germany's sudden actions are in sharp contrast to its lackadaisical foreign policy since unification last year. In the Persian Gulf war, it only hesitantly joined the coalition against Iraq, and in Yugoslavia it had spoken only timidly against the central government's violent campaign to hold the country together.
The result had been strong domestic criticism of Mr. Genscher and Chancellor Helmut Kohl for weak foreign policy leadership. Both men came under especially sharp attack during and after last week's attempted coup in the Soviet Union for basing their foreign policy too much on their friendly relationship with Soviet President Mikhail S. Gorbachev.
Now, however, the government has essentially abandoned Mr. Gorbachev in favor of dealing with the leaders of the individual Soviet republics.
Yesterday's recognition of the three Baltic states also had its specific historical reasons. Germany has a special responsibility to the three countries, Mr. Genscher said, because Nazi Germany turned them over to Josef V. Stalin's Soviet Union.
Estonian Foreign Minister Lennart Meri was taken aback by the change of heart. Only Friday, Germany had opposed dealing with individual republics.
"This was unthinkable a week ago. Our annexation was a direct result of World War II. Now this is behind us," Mr. Meri said.
In the Balkans, while many EC countries continue to call for Yugoslavia to stay together, Germany has been moving steadily toward recognizing Slovenia and Croatia.
Yesterday, for example, Mr. Genscher told a visiting Serbian politician that if the Yugoslav national army and Serbian armed forces did not stop their occupation of Croatia and bombing of civilian targets, Germany would recognize the breakaway republics' independence.
But Germany is on less hospitable historical ground there. In World War II, Nazi Germany armed and supported Croatian irregular forces, who brutally attacked many Serbians.
"This shows how touchy Germany's assertiveness can be. It has to be wary because of its historical burden," political commentator Jorg Bischoff said.