US is our most important partner: Defense Minister

Defense Minister Raimonds Vējonis on Monday welcomed the latest detachments of United States military forces to arrive in the country for training, describing the US as Latvia's most important strategic ally.

The US is Latvia's and NATO's main strategic partner, said Vējonis, greeting troops of the 2nd Cavalry Regiment of the US Army who have arrived in Latvia as part of Operation Atlantic Resolve.

US Army Europe's commander Lt. Gen. Frederick "Ben" Hodges said that exercises will continue in 2015 and 2016..

Vejonis told the press after the ceremony that rotation of the US troops proves that the US is still interested in security of the Baltic region, and it is a signal to the society and Russia that "we are not alone."

This will be the third rotation of US military units to the Baltic states, including Latvia, to beef up NATO's presence in the region. The unit of 170 US soldiers will stay in Latvia until late March when they will be replaced by troops of the 3rd Infantry Division.

As part of the ongoing rotation of US troops, the servicemen of the 1st Cavalry Division that have been stationed at the Adazi military base outside Riga since early October are being replaced by soldiers from the 2nd Cavalry Regiment with more than 50 military equipment units, including 17 Stryker armored vehicles.

The rotation of US troops is part of a US effort dubbed Operation Atlantic Resolve in the Baltic states and Poland, intended to reassure allies anxious about a resurgent Russia.

Vējonis went further into Latvia's defense priorities at a high-level seminar in Riga on preparations of the June 2015 European Council discussion on security, stressing that in the face of today's security challenges Europe needs a common approach that learns lessons from the past.
 
"Our history teaches us how important it is to stand up for our values," Vējonis said.

"Right now it is important for all to remember the lessons of history, taking into account today's security situation. We must not turn away from difficult decisions if we need to make them in order to guarantee our security and prosperity."

"If we want to protect the international system... we must be able to recognize the current reality of the threats and must be able to respond to them," Vējonis said.
 
Among measures that need to be taken is improved cooperation between the European Union and NATO, and a joint EU approach to tackling so-called "hybrid" forms of warfare, he told the discussion taking place at the Latvian War Museum, which continues throughout Monday and Tuesday and can be viewed via a live stream here.

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