Trump Hosting Baltic Leaders Amid Russia Tensions
Peggy Chang/VOA News
WHITE HOUSE — Hosting leaders of Baltic states at the White House Tuesday, U.S. President Donald Trump discussed how to strengthen security, business, trade, energy, and cultural partnerships between the United States and the three NATO allies.
The White House said Trump and the leaders of Estonia, Latvia and Lithuania were also were expected to highlight the countries’ recent success in meeting NATO’s defense spending pledge.
Trump has repeatedly criticized NATO member countries for not contributing their fair share to the alliance and not meeting their two percent defense spending benchmark. In a speech to NATO members last year, he noticeably failed to reiterate U.S. commitment to NATO’s Article 5 pledge of mutual defense, rattling NATO allies.
Since Russia annexed Crimea in 2014, Estonia, Latvia, and Lithuania have grown increasingly worried about Russia’s regional military buildup and the possibility that they could suffer a similar fate as Crimea.
The countries have since pledged to boost their defense spending, counting on NATO allies to provide military assistance should Russia take any action.
Latvian President Raimons Vejonis told Latvian Television last week that he expects Washington to publicly commit to the region’s security. “It is planned to adopt a declaration, from which we expect a very strong political message from the U.S. expressing support for strengthening Baltic security and expressing, once again, support for the independence of the Baltic states,” he said.
The U.S.-Baltic summit comes amid heighten tensions between Russia and the West.
Last week, the United States and more than two dozen countries — including the three Baltic States — expelled a total of more than 150 Russian diplomats in a show of solidarity over the poisoning of a former Russia spy in Britain. Russia responded by announcing the expulsion of more than 150 foreign diplomats, including 60 U.S. diplomats.
In addition to the expulsions, the U.S. and the Baltic states have been accusing Russia of conducting a barrage of cyberattacks and spreading fake news, propaganda, and disinformation online in an effort to meddle in European countries’ political systems and sway public opinion in favor of Russia’s agenda. Top U.S. intelligence officials have accused Russia of interfering in 2016 US presidential election and is taking steps to undermine the 2018 midterm elections.
“I think what we have seen in the past four or three years is the community of democratic nations is under the attack,” Latvian Foreign Minister Edgars Rinkevics recently told the VOA Russia Service, referring to Russian interference.
“The very basis of our democratic institutions are under attack through social media by fake news, and also through the influence of money, and it is very important that we stick together,” he said.
Russia test-fired its new liquid-fuel intercontinental ballistic missile Sarmat on Friday. Latvia’s Defense Ministry said Thursday it was concerned by a sudden announcement from Russia that it will test-fire missiles in the Baltic Sea between Latvia and Sweden on April 4 and 6.
Last month, President Trump congratulated Russian President Vladimir Putin on his re-election victory during a phone call and said the two agreed to hold talks in the “not-too-distant future.”
White House Press Secretary Sarah Sanders said Monday they discussed the meeting could take place “at a number of potential venues, including the White House.”