Russian recent actions have only served to further unite NATO, the US’ defense chief said on Saturday amid escalating tensions with Moscow.
Speaking to reporters alongside Lithuanian Foreign Minister Gabrielius Landsbergis during an official visit to the capital Vilnius, Secretary of Defense Lloyd Austin reiterated that Russia was ready to strike Ukraine having increased its military buildup around the country, including in Belarus.
Underlining that his visit was intended to show the US commitment to NATO, Austin said: “I want everyone in Lithuania, Estonia, and Latvia to know — and I want (Russian) President Putin and the Kremlin to know — that the United States stands with our allies.”
Taking note of the assistance Ukraine has received from several nations amid the rising tensions, he particularly praised initiatives by Poland and the Baltic countries for providing Ukraine with air-to-air and anti-tank missiles.
“Rather than sowing divisions among allies, which Mr. Putin would like to see, NATO has shored up its defense and deterrence posture,” Austin added.
“Mr. Putin says he doesn’t want to see a strong NATO on his western flank — that is exactly what he’s getting.”
Accusing Russia of deploying troops with the intention of launching an attack on Ukraine, the US secretary of defense said the parties should still pursue a diplomatic solution as long as possible.
Following the meeting with Landsbergis, Austin said on Twitter: “During our discussion, I wanted to make one thing clear above all else: our commitment under Article 5 is unwavering. An attack on one NATO ally is an attack on all.”
Landsbergis, for his part, stressed that NATO had to demonstrate its deterrence against Russia.
The alliance should also show that it is ready to defend the Baltic states, Poland, and other countries in the region, in case of Russian aggression, he added.
The Lithuanian foreign minister stressed that since Russia’s illegal annexation of Crimea in 2014, the NATO military presence in the Baltics had been fortified, saying this was an important step showing NATO’s deterrence and capabilities.
“We appreciate the unwavering US commitment to the defense of the Baltics — as the security situation in our region has never been so fragile as it is now, US engagement in our region is critically important,” he added.
In Vilnius, Austin also met the country’s President Gitanas Nauseda and Prime Minister Ingrida Simonyte.
According to local public broadcaster LRT, Simonyte conveyed to Austin her country’s willingness to host more US troops.
Similarly, Nauseda asked for a permanent American military presence in Lithuania to deter Russian aggression, LRT added.
Nauseda also emphasized that, given the increased tensions in the region, the permanent rotational deployment of a US battalion in Lithuania would “strengthen deterrence,” according to a press release by the his office.
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