“Our relationship is more important than perhaps it’s been in a long time.”
U.S. senators have traveled to NATO nations to perform their typical lip service, promising America stands behind the organization and the nations involved. NATO nations have grown concerned over America’s role since Donald Trump won the election in November:
“I am convinced and certain that our relations, and the American relationship with NATO, will remain the same,” Mr. [John] McCain said at a news conference with Estonia’s new prime minister, Juri Ratas.
Trump criticized NATO during the presidential campaign, calling it “obsolete” and even said he wanted to explore ways “to set conditions for continued United States participation in the alliance.”
McCain said he doubts anything will change once Trump becomes president. He also does not think America will remove sanctions against Russia, which have held since the Kremlin annexed Crimea from Ukraine in March 2014:
“I think the presence of the American troops here in Estonia is a signal that we believe in what Ronald Reagan believed, and that is peace through strength,” McCain told reporters in the Estonian capital.
“And the best way to prevent Russian misbehaviour by having a credible, strong military and a strong NATO alliance.”
It’s nice to act like everything is all peachy keen and dandy, but Russia will not stop. The Baltics, which include Estonia, Lithuania, and Latvia, have felt some force from Russia since the invasion of Ukraine.
Right before the Crimean annexation, a Moscow diplomat said Russia wants ethnic Russians protected in Estonia:
Russia fully supported the protection of the rights of linguistic minorities, a Moscow diplomat told the United Nations Human Rights Council in Geneva, according to a summary of the session issued by the U.N.’s information department.
“Language should not be used to segregate and isolate groups,” the diplomat was reported as saying. Russia was “concerned by steps taken in this regard in Estonia as well as in Ukraine,” the Moscow envoy was said to have added.
The text of the Russian remarks, echoing long-standing complaints over Estonia’s insistence that the large Russian minority in the east of the country should be able to speak Estonian, was not immediately available.
Russia’s ambassador to Latvia echoed a similar sentiment when he told a radio station that the Kremlin “would allow granting Russian citizenship to ethnic Russians in Latvia to ‘save the Latvian noncitizens out of poverty by giving them citizenship and a pension without having to stay in Russia.'”
To attack Lithuania, the Kremlin decided to reopen criminal cases against Lithuanians who refused to serve in the Soviet Army in 1990-1991. Remember, Lithuania became the first Soviet Republic to declare independence from Moscow in March 1990:
“We have received such request for legal assistance,” said Vilma Mazone of the Prosecutor General’s Office. “As the activities, which Russia lists among criminal deeds, is not criminalized in Lithuania, the request for legal assistance will not be processed.”
Around 1,500 refused to serve in the army. Officials arrested many of those men, but quite a few escaped. Those who did had the warrants revoked once the Soviet Union fell.
Then in September, Russia’s foreign ministry chief monitor of human rights overseas (You can laugh at that title because I did. Maybe Russia should pay attention to human rights at home?) Konstantin Dolgov warned the world that the Kremlin will protect ethnic Russians around the world, but put an emphasis on the Baltics:
“It has to be stated with sadness that a huge number of our compatriots abroad, whole segments of the Russian world, continue to face serious problems in securing their rights and lawful interests,” he said. “One of the obvious and, perhaps, key reasons for this state of affairs is the unrelenting growth of xenophobic and neo-Nazist sentiments in the world.”
The Baltics begged NATO for more protection. The Ukraine invasion tied NATO’s hands since the country does not belong to the organization. Around 5,000 American troops have rotated between the three countries, but McCain said “he would support a permanent United States presence, not just a rotation.”
The U.S. has deployed more and more soldiers to the Baltics, Poland, and Romania as the countries continue to worry about their future. Lt. Gen. Ben Hodges, the commander of U.S. land troops in Europe, boasted about the move, saying this proves America’s commitment to NATO.
Russia continues to build up its forces along the Ukrainian border and the Baltic Sea. In October, the Kremlin sent “nuclear-capable missiles in Kalingrad, Russia’s Baltic exclave” while it sent two warships “armed with cruise missiles” into the Baltic Sea. However, Russia also uses media to brainwash citizens into believing the country is already at war:
Russia’s armed forces play a key role, but television is important, too. At home, Russian state channels have recently floated the prospect of nuclear war with Washington. (Russia’s military is inferior to that of the US, but in nuclear weapons it has parity.) Many Russians now dangerously believe their country is already in a state of almost-war, or pre-war, with the west.
Back in July, Lithuania welcomed the battalions because of Kaliningrad:
While neighbouring Estonia and Latvia are concerned about Moscow’s influence over ethnic Russian citizens, Vilnius is more afraid about a direct military threat.
Kaliningrad, a Russian enclave on the Baltic Sea, is largely supplied via rail and road through Lithuania while the Suwalki Gap, a slither of land in between Lithuania and Poland with Kaliningrad and Belarus at either end, has become a big concern of military planners.
“We are seeing mounting militarisation of Kaliningrad . . .[and] mounting, aggressive and unpredictable behaviour in the Baltic Sea,” said Ms Grybauskaite.
McCain remains confident that NATO will remain strong:
“Our relationship is more important than perhaps it’s been in a long time,” he said.
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