US assures Baltics as it warns Russia is ‘ready to strike’
US Secretary of Defense Lloyd Austin assured the Baltics that they would not be alone in the face of Russia’s security threats, but he refrained from promising a permanent deployment of US troops in the former Soviet republics.
r Austin was in Lithuania as a massive build-up of Russian troops and other actions led Western officials to warn that Moscow could invade Ukraine at any time, although Russia denied planning an invasion.
“They are unfolding and now ready to strike,” Austin said of the Russian position.
Lithuanian officials have expressed concern that Russian President Vladimir Putin’s purported ambitions could extend across the region.
Foreign Minister Gabrielius Landsbergis said in a joint press conference with Mr. Austin: “The battle for Ukraine is a battle for Europe. If Putin doesn’t stop there, he will go further.
“They choose the path which is based on strength. We need to send a very clear and unambiguous message that he would be faced with a very clear and quick response.
The Baltic countries of Lithuania, Estonia and Latvia joined NATO on the same day in March 2004, and the alliance operates on the principle that an attack on one member country is an attack on all.
Lithuania, a nation of 2.8 million people, borders Russian ally Belarus and the Russian enclave of Kaliningrad.
Mr Austin said: “I want everyone in Lithuania, Estonia and Latvia to know – and I want President Putin and the Kremlin to know – that the United States of America stands with our allies. .”
He also met with Lithuanian President Gitanas Nauseda, Prime Minister Ingrida Simonyte and Defense Ministers of Latvia and Estonia during his two-day visit to Lithuania.
Mr. Nauseda asked Washington for the permanent deployment of a rotating battalion in the Baltic countries, stressing that the situation in Eastern Europe continues to deteriorate.
“Russia’s military buildup on NATO’s eastern border changes the overall security situation,” he said.
“Therefore, the decision to strengthen security in the region with additional troops from the United States and to accelerate collaboration on military acquisitions is essential.”
The United States has deployed regular battle group rotations of approximately 500 soldiers and armored vehicles since 2019.
Mr Austin did not comment on the request to deploy permanent military units to Lithuania, Latvia or Estonia.
“I have no announcement to make today,” he said. “We will continue to assess situations and consult with our allies and make adjustments as necessary.”