Estonia is calling for NATO to establish a permanent base on its soil, as U.S. President Barack Obama prepares to visit the one-time Soviet satellite amid Baltic state worries about possible Russian aggression in the region.
Estonia President Toomas Hendrik Ilves, during a state visit Tuesday to Norway, said NATO, the U.S.-European military alliance, should not have two-tier countries, those with permanent NATO bases and those without. He said that "is a wrong signal to send to the potential aggressor" and he would welcome NATO troops in Estonia.
Obama is set to visit the Estonian capital, Tallinn, on Wednesday for talks with Ilves, Lithuanian President Dalia Grybauskaite and Latvia's President Andris Berzins. The American leader said last week he is visiting the region before a NATO summit later this week in Wales to reassure the Baltic countries the United States intends to adhere to its NATO Treaty obligations to defend member states if they are attacked.
All three Baltic states joined NATO in 2004, after five decades under Soviet rule, but now are voicing concerns that Russia, in the wake of its involvement in Ukraine, could also target them.
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On Monday, NATO Secretary General Anders Fogh Rasmussen announced a new "very high readiness force" in response to Moscow's intervention in Ukraine, which is not a NATO member. He said several thousand troops could be deployed on very short notice, to give it a more visible presence in eastern Europe.
Kremlin national security official Mikhail Popov called the action evidence the United States and NATO are trying to aggravate tensions with Russia. He said that as a result Moscow would have to alter its military strategy.
In an interview, Estonian Prime Minister Taavi Roivas said his country is not looking for a massive NATO presence, but one that nonetheless makes its presence known.
"We are not talking about tens of thousands of permanently stationed troops in our country any time soon, this is not the goal. We are talking about a clear and visible presence here,'' said Roivas.
The bid for a NATO base in the Baltics has drawn a mixed reaction in European capitals. German Chancellor Angela Merkel opposes the idea, while others have voiced support for ending a 1997 agreement between NATO and Russia, saying the West would not permanently locate combat troops in the region.
The NATO conclave is expected to focus on Russian involvement in Ukraine. Ukraine President Petro Poroshenko is set to attend, seeking Western military help for his troops fighting pro-Russian separatists in eastern Ukraine.
The U.S. and its European allies already have imposed significant economic sanctions against Moscow because of its Ukraine involvement, and they are considering stiffer measures.