Amid a fresh wave of sanctions and renewed tension between the United States and Russia, Vice President Mike Pence reassured NATO’s Baltic member states that the U.S. stands firmly behind its mutual-defense commitment in the face of stepped-up aggression from Moscow.
“The United States stands with the nations and people of the Baltic States — and we always will. We stand with our NATO allies in our commitment to your security,” Pence said Monday in remarks at the headquarters of Estonia’s defense forces. “Today we stand where East meets West — on a great frontier of freedom. No threat looms larger in the Baltic States than the specter of aggression from your unpredictable neighbor to the east.”
Pence’s remarks came before members of the U.S., French, British and Estonian militaries and followed a meeting between the vice president and the presidents of Estonia, Latvia and Lithuania. Pence offered optimism that the U.S.-Russia relationship might improve but said that any warming would come with a shift in Moscow’s behavior. The vice president reaffirmed President Donald Trump’s commitment to signing sanction legislation targeting Russia passed overwhelmingly last week by Congress.
In response to the forthcoming sanctions measure, Russian President Vladimir Putin ordered the U.S. to reduce the number of diplomats stationed in Russia by more than 700. The dueling diplomatic maneuvers marked a new low in already frosty relations for the former Cold War rivals.
Trump’s presidency brought with it the possibility of improved relations with Russia after the president spent much of the 2016 campaign speaking warmly of Putin and expressing optimism that he would be able to build a strong relationship with the Kremlin. Instead, relations have worsened amid investigations into Russia’s efforts to interfere in last year’s election, continued Russian military activity in Ukraine as well as Moscow’s support for Syrian dictator Bashar Assad.
Trump, too, has shifted his rhetoric in regards to Russia, drawing a relatively tougher line even if some critics would prefer him to take an even more aggressive approach. And after characterizing NATO as “obsolete” and questioning the U.S.’s willingness to comply with the treaty’s all-for-one, one-for-all defense agreement, Trump has more recently reaffirmed his nation’s commitment while also urging member states to increase their defense spending.
“Under President Donald Trump, the United States will continue to hold Russia accountable for its actions — and we call on our European allies and friends to do the same,” Pence said Monday in Estonia. “President Trump has made it clear: America is open to a better relationship. But the president and our Congress are unified in our message to Russia — a better relationship, and the lifting of sanctions, will require Russia to reverse the actions that caused sanctions to be imposed in the first place.”