SUPPORT SECRETARY US Secretary of State Antony Blinken speaks during a joint press conference with Lithuanian Foreign Minister Gabrielius Landsbergis (not pictured) at the Ministry of Foreign Affairs in Vilnius, Lithuania, Monday, 7 March 2022 (Tuesday in Manila). AP PHOTO
RIGA: US Secretary of State Antony Blinken on Monday (Tuesday in Manila) assured Lithuania and Latvia of North Atlantic Treaty Organization (NATO) protection and US support as he made quick visits in two of the three Baltic states which are growing nervous as Russia presses ahead of its invasion of Ukraine.
Besides Estonia, which Blinken will visit on Tuesday, the former Soviet republics are members of NATO, and the Biden administration aims to allay any fears they have for their safety should Russia choose to expand military operations. .
In the Latvian capital Riga, Blinken said the Baltics had “formed a democratic wall which now opposes the wave of autocracy” Russia was pushing in Europe.
“The United States is more determined than ever to stand with you as our democracies rise to the challenge,” he added.
“We are strengthening our common defense so that we and our allies are ready”, declared the head of diplomacy. He stressed that the United States’ commitment to NATO’s mutual defense pact was “sacrosanct” and that NATO and the United States were discussing the permanent troop base in the Baltics.
“We will defend every square inch of NATO territory if attacked,” Blinken said. “No one should doubt our readiness. No one should doubt our determination.”
Leaders of both countries have expressed serious concerns about Russian President Vladimir Putin’s intentions regarding former Soviet bloc countries that are now allied or otherwise tied to the West.
“We no longer have any illusions about Putin’s Russia,” Latvian Foreign Minister Edgars Rinkevics said after meeting Blinken in Riga. “We really see no good reason to assume that Russia might change its policy.”
Rinkevics said the Russian invasion of Ukraine had shown the Baltic countries in particular the need to strengthen air and coastal defenses and that Latvia wanted its security cooperation with NATO to be “more effective”.
“Unfortunately, the deteriorating security situation in the Baltic region is of great concern to all of us and the whole world,” Lithuanian President Gitanas Nauseda told Blinken earlier in Vilnius. “Russia’s reckless aggression against Ukraine proves once again that it poses a long-term threat to European security, the security of our alliance.”
Memories of Soviet rule are still fresh in the Baltics and since invading Ukraine last month, NATO has moved quickly to bolster its troop presence in its eastern flank allies while the United States pledged additional support.
Blinken’s opened its Baltic tour in Vilnius, where Lithuanian support for Ukraine’s resistance to Russian invasion was palpable as signs of solidarity with Ukrainians are evident in many businesses and on homes, public buildings and buses. He then traveled to Riga, which was also decorated with blue and yellow Ukrainian flags.
Nauseda said a policy of deterrence was no longer enough and that “advanced defence” was now needed. He predicted that “Putin will not stop in Ukraine unless he is arrested”.
“It is our collective duty as a nation to help all Ukrainians with all available means,” the Lithuanian leader said. “By saying everything, I mean, indeed, everything means everything, if one wants to avoid [a] third world war. The choice is in our hands.”
Lithuanian Foreign Minister Gabrielius Landsbergis called for increased aid to Ukraine, noting that NATO allies “are doing a lot, but we can’t stop”. He also called for an immediate halt to Russian energy imports. “We cannot pay for oil and gas with Ukrainian blood,” he said.
Lithuania also faces pressure from another major power – China – over its relations with Taiwan, the island that China considers a renegade province. Beijing has taken action, including stopping imports of certain products, against Lithuania for allowing Taiwan to open a de facto embassy in Vilnius.
Blinken said Ukraine’s situation is relevant to Lithuania’s situation in Taiwan, as all countries should have the right to pursue their own foreign policy.
“Each nation is free to associate with whomever it wishes,” he said. “The United States continues to stand with Lithuania and with each nation in choosing its own path.”