Austin: U.S. 'steadfastly committed' to Baltic states

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The United States will continue to contribute unconditionally to the security of the Baltics, U.S. Secretary of Defense Lloyd J. Austin III said on Thursday while visiting Tallinn, Estonia. 

"I want to make one thing clear to the Estonian people today. The United States remains steadfastly committed to the freedom and sovereignty of our Baltic allies. We stand united with you to deter and defend against any threat to our shared security," Austin said at a press conference.

Russia's invasion of Ukraine shows that freedom cannot be taken for granted, the official said, and Estonia knows this very well from its own history.

Austin said the U.S. has fulfilled its promises to its Baltic allies. One example is the continued presence of US troops and HIMARS missile systems in Estonia, he said.

He highlighted a promise made before Russia launched its full-scale invasion of Ukraine last February in which he promised the U.S. forces would be in Estonia the day after the war starts.

"And we did. We were the first to be here. And we meant every word we said, and we'll live up to our commitments going forward," he said.

Austin also praised Estonia for its support of Ukraine calling the country a "shining example" and highlighting the amount of aid given to the country.

"You've experienced the Kremlin's aggression first hand. And you have shown tremendous leadership in supporting Ukraine today. As a share of your economic size, Estonia has provided more military aid to Ukraine than any other country in the world. You've made hard decisions to get Ukrainians the assistance that they need to defend themselves. So thank you for your leadership, it is truly a shining example to all countries," he said.

The U.S.' presence in the region confirms the strength of the transatlantic alliance, Estonian Prime Minister Kaja Kallas said after the meeting with Austin.

"The contribution of the United States to the security of Estonia and Europe is unwavering. The reinforced presence of US forces in Estonia and our region is a confirmation of the importance of transatlantic alliance relations and will allow us to make the defense and deterrence stance of NATO on the eastern flank even more effective," she said in a statement.

The Estonian prime minister emphasized Ukraine must win the war to protect "the democratic and rules-based world order" and that the country must be given more assistance to do so.

Kallas again raised her idea for the EU to launch joint defense procurements which she discussed with heads of state last week. She also called for the defense industry's capacity to increase.

The pair discussed the presence of the United States infantry company and the HIMARS multiple rocket launcher unit, which arrived in Estonia in December, and commitments made at NATO's Madrid Summit last year.

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