The US is considering deploying Patriot surface-to-air missiles in Estonia, US Vice President Mike Pence told Estonian Prime Minister Juri Ratas on Sunday.
The U.S. Patriot defense system is a mobile, ground-based system designed to intercept missiles and warplanes.
Estonian Prime Minister Ratas said the two leaders talked about the upcoming Russian military manoeuvres planned for near the Estonian border, “and how Estonia, the United States, and NATO should monitor them and exchange information.”
Pence, on the first stop of a trip that will also take him to Georgia and Montenegro, said in Estonia’s capital, Tallinn, that Washington stands with the Baltic nations and other allies in Eastern Europe that have expressed concerns about Russia’s intentions in their respective regions.
“Our message to the Baltic states — my message when we visit Georgia and Montenegro — will be the same: To our allies here in Eastern Europe, we are with you, we stand with you on behalf of freedoms,” Pence said in an interview with Fox News.
Ratas said in a statement that the US was vital to the security of the region.
“NATO’s collective position of deterrence and defense has strengthened in the Baltic region and the USA is indispensable to ensuring the security of our immediate neighborhood, as well as all of Europe,” Ratas said.
Lithuania said it was eager to have Patriot missiles when the US military displayed the system in the country earlier this month after using them in an exercise there. Anti-aircraft defense is seen as one of NATO’s weaknesses in the Baltic states.
From Estonia, Pence is scheduled to make stops in Georgia and the newest NATO member, Montenegro.
Estonia and Montenegro are members of NATO, while Georgia has expressed hopes of joining the Western alliance.
Asked about Trump’s commitment to NATO’s mutual-defense provision, Pence told reporters in Tallinn that the U.S. administration has “made it clear that the policy of our administration is to stand firmly with our NATO allies and to stand firmly behind our Article 5 commitment that an attack on one is an attack on all.”
In Georgia, officials said Pence will highlight U.S. support for the Caucasus nation’s sovereignty and territorial integrity.
Georgian President Giorgi Margvelashvili said on July 27 that Pence’s visit will demonstrate that the United States continues to support Georgia in building a stronger military force.
During Pence’s visit, some 800 Georgian and 1,600 U.S. troops are taking part in the previously planned Noble Partner 2017 exercises. Pence is scheduled to meet with U.S. troops.
Troops from Britain, Germany, Turkey, Ukraine, Slovenia, and Armenia are also taking part.
“The vice president’s presence here is definitely showing that this is not only about military exercises, but it is also showing unification with our values, with our foreign policy targets, and showing a clear message that we are together,” Margvelashvili said.On the last stop, Pence will welcome NATO’s newest member with his stop in Montenegro, whose accession to the alliance in June has infuriated Russia.
On August 2, he will attend the Adriatic Charter Summit in Montenegro’s capital, Podgorica, U.S. officials said.
Pence was expected to highlight the U.S. commitment to the Western Balkans and stress the need for good governance, political reforms, and rule of law in the region.
The leaders of Albania, Bosnia-Herzegovina, Croatia, Kosovo, Macedonia, Serbia, and Slovenia are also scheduled to attend the summit.