U.S. Troops Sent to the Baltic Region—Are More to Follow?

September 16, 2020 Topic: Security Region: Europe Blog Brand: The Buzz Tags: BalticsBaltic StatesNATORussiaU.S. Troops

U.S. Troops Sent to the Baltic Region—Are More to Follow?

These troops could help deter Russia and preserve the independence of the former Soviet states.

In July Latvia’s Minister of Defense Artis Pabriks announced that the Baltic nation was beginning negotiations with the United States on the possible deployment of U.S. troops in the country. This came after U.S. President Donald Trump announced the partial withdrawal of troops from Germany, and the Latvian minister said in a statement on the nation’s defense portal Sargas.lv that it was crucial that there remains a significant presence of U.S. forces near the North Atlantic Treaty Organization’s (NATO) eastern border.

Pabriks added that Latvia was ready to host U.S. forces, and more importantly was ready to cover related costs. The government in Riga believes this would send a strong message to Moscow.

“We know that in the last ten years and more there has been some asymmetry between those Russian armed forces on the border of Belarus, our own armed forces, and the armed forces of our allies,” Pabriks told Latvian Radio last week. “Consequently, we believe that, in order to be able to guarantee the same security for all Latvian citizens as for German, Spanish or Italian citizens, we should have a greater permanent presence here of allied forces.”

Breaking Defense also reported that Pabriks has reaffirmed the nation’s desire to have U.S. military forces on Latvian soil as a deterrent to Russian aggression. The country was open to either a rotational or a permanent American presence in the country. There are already 1,500 NATO troops stationed at the Adazi military base, but the country, which along with Estonia to its north shares a border with Russia, also has a string of training areas that could be used for basing of additional forces.

Latvia’s offer to host U.S. troops came just after Poland also announced it would happily host U.S. forces. Of the NATO forces currently in Latvia, 500 are from Canada, while the rest are from other allied states including Italy, Poland, Slovakia and Spain. The U.S. Army has sent an aviation unit to the country on a rotational basis, Breaking Defense reported, and another rotation is planned for this fall.

Latvia, Estonia and Lithuania all joined NATO in March 2004.

NATO Troops in Lithuania?

Russian state media reported that Belarus military forces spotted the deployment of a U.S. armor battalion at a firing range, located 15 kilometers from the Belarusian border.

“Fulfilling the head of state’s assignment to follow the situation in the areas adjacent to Belarus and the movement of troops, we can see that NATO is moving forces in the neighboring states as part of Operations Enhanced Forward Presence and Atlantic Resolve,” said Belarusian Defense Minister Viktor Khreni as reported by Tass. “In particular, the redeployment of the 2nd Battalion of 69th Armor Regiment of the United States to the Pabrade firing range, 15 kilometers from our state border, is underway.”

Khreni added the concern is to have “500 people, 29 tanks and 43 Bradley fighting vehicles” in the “vicinity of our border,” and further noted, “We cannot help but be concerned about the flights of B-52 bombers along our state border.”

The U.S. Air Force has conducted drills with the air forces of Poland and Lithuania, and that included a B-52 operations and again last month during the Allied Sky exercies that included flyovers of every NATO partner nation.

Fear History Will Repeat Itself

The concern should certainly be seen as a two-way street. Since the sixteenth century, the three Baltic states have been subjugated by foreign powers—and were under the control of the Kingdom of Sweden, and since the eighteenth century were controlled by Imperial Russia.

Nationalist sentiment grew—notably in Estonia and Latvia—which morphed into aspiration for national statehood after the 1905 Russian Revolution. After the First World War all three countries, along with Finland and Poland, gained independence from Russia.

That independence was short-lived however, and at the beginning of World War II the three Baltic nations were coerced into mutual assistance treaties. After that, pro-Soviet governments were installed. While all three states were occupied during the Second World War, afterward they remained part of the Soviet Union until September 1991 when the nations seceded from the Soviet Union. The last Russian troops withdrew in August 1994.

All three nations became NATO members in March 2004 and joined the European Union in May of that year. The Baltic states are currently the only former Soviet states to have joined either the European Union or NATO. How exactly NATO could defend the three states has been a serious question in recent years—but the deployment of troops could be a start.

Peter Suciu is a Michigan-based writer who has contributed to more than four dozen magazines, newspapers and websites. He is the author of several books on military headgear including A Gallery of Military Headdress, which is available on Amazon.com.

Image: Reuters