U.S. Vice President Mike Pence said Monday there is no larger threat to Baltic states than the "specter of aggression" by Russia, as he pledged support for NATO allies Estonia, Latvia and Lithuania.
Pence met in Tallinn with the presidents of all the Baltic states — Estonia's Kersti Kaljulaid, Latvia's Raimonds Vejonis and Lithuania's Dalia Grybauskaite — and afterward summarized the U.S. position on Russia's "destabilizing" activities:
"At this very moment, Russia continues to seek to redraw international borders by force, undermine democracies of sovereign nations and divide the free nations of Europe one against another. Under President Donald Trump, the United States of America rejects any attempt to use force, threats, intimidation or malign influence in the Baltic states or against any of our treaty allies."
During his public remarks in Estonia's capital, the U.S. vice president also expressed hope for improved relations with Russia. He said the Kremlin decree this week ordering most American diplomats to leave their posts in Moscow will not deter the U.S. commitment to its allies' security.
Pence praised Estonia for meeting the NATO alliance target for defense spending of at least 2 percent of its gross domestic product, and he noted Latvia and Lithuania would hit that level by the end of next year. Trump has repeatedly called on NATO members to boost defense spending.
Estonia, Latvia and Lithuania all have asked for tangible demonstrations of U.S. military support. Concerns about Russian expansionism have increased sharply in the Baltic region since Russia annexed Crimea from Ukraine three years ago.
From Estonia, Pence traveled later Monday to Georgia, where troops from the United States and other NATO partners are conducting military exercises that began Sunday.
Welcoming him to Tbilisi, Prime Minister Giorgi Kvirikashvili said, "Vice President Pence's visit sends a strong message about the enduring strength of the relationship between Georgia and the United States."
Pence praised the Georgian people for their strong "commitment to independence and freedom." He and Kvirikashvili dined together Monday and will hold talks Tuesday.
Following his visit to Georgia, Pence's three-nation tour of Eastern Europe will conclude in Montenegro, NATO's newest member.