EU members and staunch NATO allied Estonia, Latvia, and Lithuania have requested that the US to include the three Baltic republics in the defensive umbrella covered by the alliance’s Romania and Poland-based anti-missile shield.
Lithuanian President Dalia Grybauskaite, Estonian President Kersti Kaljulaid, and Latvian President Raimonds Vejonis are among the strongest critics of Russia in the European Union and are growing increasingly worried about US President Donald J. Trump‘s inability to harshly criticise or stand-up to Russian President Vladimir Putin.
Despite Washington’s new round of sanctions targeting Russian individuals, companies, and intelligence agencies, as well as the expulsion of 60 Russian diplomats following Moscow’s alleged poisoning of a former Russian spy in the United Kingdom, Trump’s congratulations to Putin on his recent electoral win and his suggestion during a phone conversation with his counterpart in the Kremlin should visit the White House for a one-to-one meeting has deeply alarmed much of Eastern Europe, including the Baltic republics.
A senior Lithuanian official told the AFP news agency that the three Baltic leaders want Trump to send Patriot Missiles to their respective countries to help bolster their air defences against the Russian Air Forces’ constant violations of their airspace.
The official also said the Baltic leaders have conveyed the message that they want to become a part of NATO’s larger European anti-missile ballistic shield.
The requests from Estonia, Latvia, and Lithuania come only days after Poland to buy the Patriot system currently in use by the U.S. Army.
“I hope that the United States and other allies understand that the airspace of the Baltic states must be better protected and defended,” Lithuania’s Grybauskaite told her country’s public broadcaster LRT ahead of the visit. “It is important that the US troops are here on a permanent rotational basis in all of the Baltic states,” she said.
NATO deployed four multinational battalions to Poland and the Baltic states in 2017 as tripwires against a possible Russian invasion, which also included the deployment of a US Patriot missile battery to Lithuania for drills and training with their Lithuanian counterparts.
US Vice President Mike Pence first raised the possibility of deploying Patriots in nearby Estonia in July.
The Poles also want 360-degree detection capability, which the current generation of Patriot lacks. Warsaw said that it ultimately wants to purchase eight batteries with capabilities that will be worked into later phases of their deployment and require further technical agreements between the US and Poland.
Public opinion polls in the Baltics and Poland showed that citizens of the four countries were severely unnerved by Trump’s campaign rhetoric where he questioned NATO’s legitimacy and relevance and his continuing unwillingness to single out Putin as the West’s main threat.
Trump, however, has opted to boost funding for US forces in Europe and provide hi-tech anti-tank missiles to Ukraine to defend against Russia and its pro-Moscow separatist proxies fighting Kiev’s armed forces in eastern Ukraine.
Trump, who has repeatedly attacked other European allies for failing to meet NATO’s requirement too spend two percent of gross domestic product on defence, praised the leaders of the Baltic nations for agreeing to meet the alliance’s spending goal.
While in Washington, the Lithuanian delegation announced the signing of a deal to boost its imports of liquefied natural gas from the United States in an effort to reduce its reliance on Russian energy. Lithuania was the first former Soviet republic to sign and energy deal with the US in 2017.