US Secretary of State Antony Blinken on Monday assured Lithuania and Latvia of NATO protection and US support, as he made quick visits to two of the three Baltic states that are increasingly on edge as Russia presses ahead with its invasion of Ukraine.
Along with Estonia, which Blinken was to visit yesterday, the former Soviet republics are NATO members, and US President Joe Biden’s administration is aiming to calm any fears they have about their security in the event that Russia chooses to expand its military operations.
In the Latvian capital, Riga, Blinken said that the Baltics have “formed a democratic wall that now stands against the tide of autocracy” that Russia is pushing in Europe.
“The United States is more committed than ever to standing with you as our democracies rise to the challenge,” he said.
“We are bolstering our shared defense so that we and our allies are prepared,” he added.
Blinken said that the US’ commitment to NATO’s mutual defense pact is “sacrosanct,” and that NATO and the US were discussing the permanent basing of troops in the Baltics.
“We will defend every inch of NATO territory if it comes under attack,” he said. “No one should doubt our readiness. No one should doubt our resolve.”
Leaders in the two countries expressed grave concerns about Russian President Vladimir Putin’s intentions as it relates to former Soviet bloc countries that are now allied or otherwise linked to the West.
“We have no illusions about Putin’s Russia anymore,” Latvian Minister of Foreign Affairs Edgars Rinkevics said after meeting Blinken in Riga.
“We don’t really see any good reason to assume that Russia might change its policy,” he said.
The Russian invasion of Ukraine has shown the Baltic countries the need to bolster air and coastal defenses, and that Latvia would like its security cooperation with NATO to be “more efficient,” Rinkevics said.
“Unfortunately, the worsening security situation in the Baltic region is of great concern for all of us and around the world,” Lithuanian President Gitanas Nauseda told Blinken earlier in Vilnius.
Memories of Soviet rule are still fresh in the Baltics and since the invasion of Ukraine, NATO has increased troop levels in its eastern flank allies, while the US has pledged additional support.
Blinken opened his Baltic tour in Vilnius, where Lithuanian support for Ukraine’s resistance to the Russian invasion was palpable, as signs of solidarity with Ukrainians were evident in many businesses, and on houses and buses.
He later traveled to Riga, which was similarly festooned with blue-and-yellow Ukrainian flags.
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