The US and its allies Estonia, Latvia and Lithuania are seeking to strike defense cooperation agreements before President Barack Obama leaves office in January, officials have told AFP.
The inauguration of President-elect Donald Trump is scheduled to take place in Washington on Jan. 20.
The three Baltic states, all formerly occupied by the Soviet Union, now make up part of NATO’s eastern flank at a border shared with a more assertive Russia, and each has followed President-elect Trump’s pro-Moscow rhetoric with mounting unease.
Each of the three countries is trying to conclude a Defense Cooperation Agreement with Washington that will include provisions on the status of US forces deployed there.
The deals will “complement the existing bilateral and NATO agreements we have in place with each Baltic state to support our rotational military presence in each country,” a senior administration official told AFP.
Lithuanian Minister of Foreign Affairs Linas Linkevičius told AFP that although there was no concern regarding Trump’s stance — despite the latter’s questioning of NATO’s relevance — he noted that procedures may take longer when administrations change.
“It is in our interests that it happens soon,” the Lithuanian minister noted. “We hope that it will happen at the beginning of next year.”
A similar, recently signed agreeent between the US and Finland, which also borders Russia but is not a NATO member, deepened bilateral cooperation on cyber security, sharing security information and expanding joint training and military exercises.
Officials on both sides of the Atlantic admit that such complex deals may not be concluded before Trump takes office on jan. 20, but having them in place quickly would provide extra reassurance to the three US allies who have long expressed concerns regarding Russia’s covert intelligence and overt military actions.
“The desire to have these agreements illustrates our commitment to a robust bilateral military relationship with these three NATO allies, and we hope to finalize them soon,” said Pentagon spokeswoman Cmdr. Sarah Higgins.
At a summit in Warsaw earlier this year, NATO agreed to deploy multinational battalions to Estonia, Latvia, Lithuania and Poland.