U.S. Defense Secretary Lloyd Austin said on Thursday the United States was ready to defend the Baltic States of Estonia, Latvia, and Lithuania if required.
“I want to make one thing very clear to the Estonian people today. The United States remains steadfastly committed to the freedom and sovereignty of our Baltic allies,” Austin told a news conference in Tallinn after talks with Estonian leaders. “We stand united with you to deter and defend against any threat to our common security.”
To drive the point further, Austin illustrated U.S. commitment to its allies with assistance his country has offered the Baltic States. As he reminded the press, before Rusia invaded Ukraine, he personally pledged to his Estonian counterpart that “if Russia invaded Ukraine, we would deploy forces to Estonia the next day.”
“And we did. We were the first to be here and we met every word we said and we’ll live up to our commitments going forward. So we are committed to Article five. And you can you can bet on it,” said the U.S. Defense Secretary.
Secretary Austin also pointed out how Putin’s hopes to divide NATO have been dashed “His aggression [against Ukraine] achieved just the opposite. The NATO alliance is more united and stronger than I have ever seen it.”
NATO has deployed three multinational battalions in each of the Baltic states since 2017, a “persistent” presence of rotating soldiers to serve as a trip wire for a larger response force should Russia invade NATO territory. Since 2019, the United States has deployed rotating groups of about 500 troops and equipment in Lithuania, and in December it announced a platoon of HIMARS artillery rocket systems and an infantry company in Estonia.
“Next week, Estonia will celebrate its Independence Day,” said Austin’s counterpart, Estonian Minister of Defense Hanno Pevkur. “We must not forget that it is thanks to the committed allies like the United States, that small countries like Estonia can even flourish as independent sovereign states. Our security continues to be guaranteed by our membership in NATO, the most powerful alliance in history.”
Minister Pevkur also lauded the support U.S. has so far lend to Ukraine, but while Washington’s assistance has been the greatest in absolute terms, he pointed out that in relative terms Estonia has also made a massive contribution.
“As a result of the Tallinn pledge commitment, Estonia’s military assistance to Ukraine recently exceeded 1 percet of our GDP. Still, we can and must do more,” said Pevkur.