News / USA

Obama Stresses NATO Commitment to Baltics

President Barack Obama speaks at the Nordea Concert Hall in Tallinn, Estonia, Sept. 3, 2014.
President Barack Obama speaks at the Nordea Concert Hall in Tallinn, Estonia, Sept. 3, 2014.
Luis Ramirez

President Barack Obama condemned Russia's intervention in Ukraine Wednesday as a "brazen assault" on the country's integrity, and assured three other former Soviet republics that NATO would defend them against any aggression by Moscow.

Obama said that Estonia, Lithuania and Latvia had lost their independence before to Moscow, but that "with NATO, you will never lose it again."

Speaking to a crowd of about 2,000 at the Nordea Concert Hall, Obama praised Estonia as a model NATO member and said, "There is no doubt the Baltics have made our alliance stronger."

Obama said that the Baltic states, which joined the alliance in 2004, share NATO's vision of a free and peaceful Europe, and that peace is now threatened by Russia's aggressions against Ukraine, calling it "a brazen assault upon a sovereign and independent nation."

The U.S. president urged NATO to send an "unmistakable message of support" to Ukraine and said the alliance would continue to help the country build democratic institutions, train its military and diversify its energy sources.

Baltic states' fears

Obama declared that NATO would be resolute in defending the three Baltic states on Russia's western border.

"We will defend our NATO allies, and that means every ally," he stressed. "In this alliance, there are no old members or new members, no junior partners or senior partners. They're just allies, pure and simple."

Obama also said the alliance must leave the door open to new members to counter what he called Russian aggression.

President Obama travels to Estonia and Wales, Sept. 2014President Obama travels to Estonia and Wales, Sept. 2014
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President Obama travels to Estonia and Wales, Sept. 2014
President Obama travels to Estonia and Wales, Sept. 2014

Earlier Wednesday, Obama announced plans to send more aircraft to the Baltics, as he seeks to reassure Estonia, Lithuania and Latvia, which are on edge about possible Russian threats.

The three nations fear that the separatist rebellion in eastern Ukraine could lead to problems within their countries. Similar to Ukraine, the three have sizeable Russian minorities and rely on Russian fuel deliveries.

In 1997, NATO agreed to not position its troops on Russia's border, but Obama said that declaration will be open to discussion at Thursday's NATO summit in Wales because "circumstances clearly have changed" with Moscow's involvement in Ukraine.

Air Force increase

Obama made his earlier remarks at a news conference Wednesday with Estonian President Toomas Hendrik Ilves in the Estonian capital, Tallinn, one day before the start of a key NATO summit in Wales.

Obama announced the U.S. would send more Air Force units and aircraft to the Baltics, and called Estonia's Amari Air Base an ideal location to base those forces.

U.S. President Barack Obama, left, listens to Estonian President Toomas Hendrik Ilves during a news conference at the Bank of Estonia in Tallinn, Estonia, Sept. 3, 2014.U.S. President Barack Obama, left, listens to Estonian President Toomas Hendrik Ilves during a news conference at the Bank of Estonia in Tallinn, Estonia, Sept. 3, 2014.
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U.S. President Barack Obama, left, listens to Estonian President Toomas Hendrik Ilves during a news conference at the Bank of Estonia in Tallinn, Estonia, Sept. 3, 2014.
U.S. President Barack Obama, left, listens to Estonian President Toomas Hendrik Ilves during a news conference at the Bank of Estonia in Tallinn, Estonia, Sept. 3, 2014.

Standing with Ilves, Obama ticked through a list of U.S. military resources already at work in the region, and said the U.S. has a duty under the NATO charter to the alliance's collective defense.

"It is unbreakable, it is unwavering, it is eternal. And Estonia will never stand alone," Obama said in Tallinn, Estonia's port capital.

The president also said all NATO members must do their fair share of defense spending in order to bolster the alliance.

Obama held up Estonia as an example of how all 28 NATO members must fulfill their pledges to contribute 2 percent of their gross domestic product to the alliance.

(Click here to see White House Fact Sheet on US / Estonia Partnership)

Baltic nations

Behind the closed doors at the Kadriorg Art Museum, Obama and Ilves later joined the leaders of the other Baltic states - Latvia and Lithuania - for broader security talks, where the crisis in Ukraine was again on the agenda.

The president has described the talks as a means of showing the three former Soviet republics "that we mean what we say with respect to our treaty obligations."

After their meeting, the four leaders delivered brief remarks. All four leaders spoke in English.

President Dalia Grybauskaite of Lithuania blasted Russian aggression, saying that it was not only an attack against Ukraine but also against peace.

President Barack Obama, center, accompanied by the leaders of Baltic States, from left, Estonia President Toomas Hendrik Ilves, Latvia President Andris Berzins and Lithuanian President Dalia Grybauskaite, speaks after their meeting at Kadriorg Art MuseumPresident Barack Obama, center, accompanied by the leaders of Baltic States, from left, Estonia President Toomas Hendrik Ilves, Latvia President Andris Berzins and Lithuanian President Dalia Grybauskaite, speaks after their meeting at Kadriorg Art Museum
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President Barack Obama, center, accompanied by the leaders of Baltic States, from left, Estonia President Toomas Hendrik Ilves, Latvia President Andris Berzins and Lithuanian President Dalia Grybauskaite, speaks after their meeting at Kadriorg Art Museum
President Barack Obama, center, accompanied by the leaders of Baltic States, from left, Estonia President Toomas Hendrik Ilves, Latvia President Andris Berzins and Lithuanian President Dalia Grybauskaite, speaks after their meeting at Kadriorg Art Museum

She said her country appreciates U.S. and NATO commitments to the region and their commitment to Article 5.

Grybauskaite said, “Ukraine today is a front line for all of us, and we need to take this very seriously."

Latvian President Andris Berzins said he wanted to see U.S. troops and equipment in his country for “as long as necessary.”

Obama said his message to his counterparts was that the Baltic nations are among the United States’ most reliable allies in NATO. He said the United States’ commitment to their defense is “rock solid.”

“Here in the Baltics, the United States has stepped up its presence,” he said. The Baltics "will never stand alone."

NATO summit

On Thursday, Obama will join the leaders of the 27 other NATO nations for a two-day summit in Wales aimed at sharpening Western support for Ukraine, as Kyiv battles a months-long rebellion by pro-Russian separatists near the Russian border.

He said the summit is set to focus on proposals to establish a rapid-reaction NATO force capable of deploying quickly to eastern Europe. 

Ukrainian President Petro Poroshenko is due to attend.

Earlier Wednesday, Ilves called for "a robust and a visible ally presence here in Estonia," arguing that such a presence would be the best way to deter any potential aggressors in the region — a clear reference to Russia.

Russia has voiced strenuous opposition to any NATO presence near its borders and Tuesday said it would review its military strategies if - as expected - NATO members endorse the creation of the force.

Before leaving Estonia late Wednesday, Obama met with U.S. and Estonian soldiers who had served together in Iraq and Afghanistan and are now training in Estonia, telling them their actions send a powerful message that as "NATO allies, we stand together."

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by: Observer from: Southeastasia
September 04, 2014 10:51 AM
Now Mr Obama sounds a bit more American than before in dealing with anti-American, anti-western, and anti-Christian forces. However, it is too late. It's almost understandable if Obama has not been American or Christian enough in his policy toward the above-mentioned forces above because: first, he is a first generation American, or a new American; second, he did not receive Christian and American upbringing when he was under 5. But the Americans have chosen him twice to be their President. So what? It seems that most Americans now have become less American, and less Christian in spirit too. Hence, the anti-American and anti-Christian propaganda have been winning. How farther will they advance? Hope that ISIS will not succeed in doing something wickedly evil to the US like the September 11 tragedy.

by: Lawrence Bush from: Houston, USA
September 03, 2014 10:15 AM
On the way to the NATO summit in Brussels, our president's meeting with the heads of the Baltic states is a strategically strategic one to assure such states of complete, unwavering NATO supports.While Estonia, Lithuania and Latvia are close to the Russian borders, while amassing NATO sophisticated defense hardwares; certainly, it's to provoke Moscow to review its strategic defense preparedness toward the Baltic region. Here does arise a NATO balance and the Russian counter-balance eqation. And, the variables ahead would be many. Such a move of both the sides; viz., NATO and Russia emerges as the reminder of the unfortunate cold war phase - NATO and the Warsaw pact dividing line.

But after the dissolution of the Warsaw pact, the Soviet Union itself, that strategic line moves closer to the Russian border now. And, that's to raise adrenaline in the Kremlin think-tank how that's to be tackled now by Russia alone? Of course, the present pressure that Russia does face due to its threat in the region in its strategic move to destabilize Ukraine after annexation of Crimea. And, the same threat does loom large against some other states in the Baltics too. So, there does arise now a threat and counter-threat situation between the states of NATO membership versus Russia.

by: Vello Ederma from: Springfield, VA
September 03, 2014 9:01 AM
Estonia is not "a former Soviet republic." It is an independent country that was invaded by the Soviets, forcibly annexed and REgained its independence.
VEderma, former chief of European News, VOA News Div.
In Response

by: meanbill from: USA
September 03, 2014 1:01 PM
You do know, you aren't going to get your job back, by criticizing VOA, don't you?.... maybe you should have used the nom de plume of Anonymous?

by: Tibor from: Germany
September 03, 2014 8:04 AM
Proxy war against Russia is the only motivation of the USA. All the rest is just empty rhetoric as usual.Ukraine is tricked to start the dirty work against Russian brothers and sisters within Ukraine and beyond under the slogans of Russian expansionism. The truth however is much simpler. Russia could not risk Crimea to become part of the EU after centuries of bloody wars for the place of such a high strategic value. Hawaii is a good example, but it seems the USA is more equal than others.

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