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US defense secretary pledges military training, support for Baltics

Then-Defense Secretary nominee Lloyd J. Austin III before the Senate Armed Services Committee in Washington, D.C. Jan. 19, 2021. (EJ Hersom/DOD)

This article was originally published by Radio Free Europe/Radio Liberty and is reprinted with permission.

The United States will conduct more military exercises with Baltic nations such as Latvia, and look to provide increased training, Defense Secretary Lloyd Austin said on August 10.

Speaking at a press conference with Latvian Defense Minister Artis Pabriks in Riga, Austin said Washington may also bring in more U.S. troops if needed to bolster the region against any possible threat from Russia.

Austin, who is on a two-day visit to Latvia, said plans to do continuous rotations of forces into the Baltics will likely use troops from U.S. brigades in Romania and other parts of Europe, but “we can also bring in forces from the United States.”

During his visit, Austin repeatedly reemphasized the United States’ commitment to helping the region defend itself.

Austin is the first U.S. defense secretary to visit Latvia in nearly three decades, highlighting the increased importance of the Baltic nations, which sit at Russia’s western edge.

The Pentagon said the last defense chief to go to Latvia was William Perry in 1995.

Pabriks told reporters that his top priorities are to get more U.S. military enablers, adding that, in order to defend his country, his troops need “nitty gritty training” on a daily basis.

He added that Latvia also needs additional financial assistance from Washington in order to buy new military equipment and to beef up its air and coastal defenses.

Austin met with top Latvian leaders, including President Egils Levits at Riga Castle, pledging Washington’s steadfast commitment to standing with the Baltic region against any Russian aggression.

The three Baltic countries – Latvia, Lithuania and Estonia — are all former Soviet republics that were annexed during World War II. They gained independence with the breakup of the Soviet Union in 1991 and joined NATO in 2004, putting themselves under the military protection of the Western allies.