Blinken says NATO is considering more permanent troops in the Baltics
Foreign Secretary Antony Blinken said NATO was considering keeping troops longer in the Baltic region, the clearest sign of Vladimir Putin’s invasion of Ukraine that is causing Washington and the alliance to rethink their plans to station troops there. Eastern Europe.
The North Atlantic Treaty Organization is “considering the question of a longer-term deployment,” Blinken said Monday in Lithuania. During a subsequent stop in Latvia, Blinken said that no decision had been made and that permanent deployment would be decided as part of a broad review of NATO’s force posture.
“The presence should last as long as necessary,” Latvian Foreign Minister Edgars Rinkevics said, citing Putin’s threat.
The visit, which includes a stop in Estonia on Tuesday, comes as leaders in the Baltics are increasing their urgency to call on NATO to do more to help protect them in the long run. Lithuanian President Gitanas Nauseda told Blinken: “Deterrence is no longer enough, and we need more defense here. “Otherwise it will be too late,” he said.
The three Baltic states that were part of the Soviet Union and joined NATO in 2004 have been the most outspoken to express concern about Putin’s territorial ambitions and have repeatedly called on NATO to do more to protect its territory. protect their borders.
The United States has resisted permanently stationing troops in the Baltic states and other NATO countries near their borders with Russia to avoid offending Moscow.
“When it comes to NATO, the lines are very clear, and I will repeat – if there is any aggression on NATO territory, we, the United States, all of our allies and partners will act to protect every inch,” Mr. Blinken said.
Baltic leaders say they have warned NATO allies for more than a decade that Putin wants to go to war. They say he forged his power in the Kremlin through brutal military campaigns that unleashed vast, often indiscriminate violence against cities and civilians, with no appropriate retribution. from the international community.
In 1999, in one of his first acts as president, Putin directed a major offensive against separatist rebels in Chechnya, despite initial denials that he was preparing suffered a land invasion, dumping waste into the capital Grozny and killing thousands of civilians. In 2008, he ordered an invasion of neighboring Georgia, displacing nearly 200,000 people to thwart an international response. In 2014, he invaded and annexed the Crimean Peninsula from Ukraine and a year later, sent troops to Syria, where Russian warplanes played a key role in bolstering the regime of Bashar al-Assad. by frequent air strikes on densely populated areas.
“How many more warnings do you need?” an adviser to the Estonian government said.
Moscow has defended its military operations, generally aimed at keeping Russian speakers safe in those areas. It has also long opposed the stationing of NATO troops along its western border, saying it would pose a threat to its security.
Until the final days before Russia invaded Ukraine, they said, Baltic security officials and politicians struggled to convince their Western European counterparts of the seriousness of the threats. of Mr. Putin.
Estonian Prime Minister Kaja Kallas said that during a security conference in Munich, the weekend before the Russian invasion, she argued with a senior European intelligence official who refused to believe Putin would invade. .
“They didn’t see what we saw, and the Americans did, or they didn’t believe it,” she said.
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Now Western allies are having to rethink. “Russian aggression has created a new normal for our security,” NATO Secretary General Jens Stoltenberg said after a meeting of alliance foreign ministers last weekend. “NATO’s relationship with Russia has fundamentally changed over the long term,” he said.
The commander of the British contribution to the NATO mission in Estonia and Poland, Colonel Dai Bevan, acknowledged that the Baltic states had long warned of Russian aggression.
“The Estonians are very focused on what Russia has been doing, and I think their understanding of Russia is very impressive,” Col. Bevan said. “The Western view, or the UK view, has evolved in recent months.”
Now NATO is acting hastily, sending military equipment to the region. The US has sent F-35 stealth fighters there, along with Apache attack helicopters, troops and other items. German contributions included battleships and vehicle-mounted artillery. The UK has deployed armored vehicles and other equipment, while other NATO members have also moved troops and equipment to the region to strengthen their defenses.
For their part, the Baltic states have provided military aid to Ukraine, despite the relatively modest size of their arsenals. Estonian delivery includes anti-submarine mines and howitzers. Latvia says it has supplied drones to Ukraine and Lithuania, among other things, Stinger anti-aircraft missiles.
“Our collective duty as a nation is to help our Ukrainian people by all means available,” said Mr. Nauseda.
—Evan Gershkovich contributed to this article.
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