The leaders of the three Baltic states are expected to press President Donald Trump on Tuesday for more U.S. military support to defend NATO’s borders with Russia, where some allies are concerned about Moscow’s military advantage.
“It is important that (U.S. troops) are here on a permanent rotational basis in all Baltic states,” Lithuanian President Dalia Grybauskaite told local reporters ahead of her visit to the White House.
In addition to more troops, the Baltic leaders also are expected to seek more frequent rotations of Patriot missile batteries for exercises.
The meeting comes at a time of enormous tension between the West and Russia. During the past two weeks, more than 150 Russian diplomats have been expelled from about countries in response to allegations that Moscow was responsible for a nerve agent attack on a former Russian spy in the United Kingdom.
Still, in places such as the Baltics, there remains uncertainty about Trump’s approach to Russia. On the one hand, the U.S. has increased its military presence in Europe during Trump’s first year in office, showing no sign that it is seeking to reduce its support to NATO as some critics had feared. At the same time, Trump’s rhetoric toward Russia and its president Vladimir Putin has been conciliatory, which has been a source of consternation among some allies.
Nonetheless, despite Trump’s repeated statements about a desire for warmer ties with Moscow, relations remain at a post-Cold War low. And the risks of confrontation are growing, some analysts say.
“The risk of escalation sparking a wider conflict — deliberately, inadvertently, or accidentally — between Russia and NATO is dangerously high. This is particularly the case in the Baltics,” said analyst Ulrich Kuhn in a new report for the Carnegie Endowment for International Peace.
During the past year, NATO has added multinational battlegroups in each of the Baltic states and Poland in an effort to deter any possible Russian aggression. Still, numerous think tanks have argued that more robust moves are needed to blunt any possible Russian assault given Moscow’s much larger force positioned on the opposite side of NATO’s border.
The imbalance has been a particular source of worry in NATO countries positioned in Russia’s territorial shadow.
“I hope that the United States and other allies understand that the airspace of the Baltic states must be better protected and defended,” Grybauskaite said on public radio this week.