The Baltic states’ insecurity was heightened on July 21 when US presidential candidate Donald Trump said that if he were elected Washington might not defend the three small Nato members if they are attacked by Russia.
Estonia, Latvia, and Lithuania only had their positions as Nato’s eastern flank shored up two weeks earlier, when the alliance’s Warsaw summit decided to commit more troops there to deter Russia. The Baltic states and Poland have recently become wary of Moscow’s aggressive policies in the region, especially after the seizure of Crimea from Ukraine in 2014.
But Trump has now reawakened Eastern Europe’s fear that, in the case of an attack from the east, Nato might be too divided to react. Asked by The New York Times if the US would help the Baltic states were they to be attacked by Russia, Trump retorted, “if they fulfil their obligations to us, the answer is yes".
The answer appeared to make US intervention dependent on whether the Baltic states fulfilled their Nato target of spending 2% of GDP on defence. Only Estonia currently does so.
“We are equally committed to all our Nato allies, regardless of who they may be. That's what makes them allies,” Estonian President Toomas Hendrik Ilves said on Twitter.
“At the recent Nato summit in Warsaw, all members of the alliance made clear their readiness to meet their obligations, including Article 5 of the Nato Treaty, which provides that in the case of a member state facing attack, the rest are obliged to come to its aid,” Latvian President Raimonds Vejonis said in a statement, according to LSM.
Other Baltic officials did not mince their words. “If [Trump] doubts the use of Article 5, it puts at risk our country’s safety. There could be people who may decide to test that,” former Latvian defence minister and now an MEP Artis Pabriks told LETA.
Eastern Europe has recently seen the biggest military buildup in years in the wake of the conflict with Ukraine.
Moscow announced plans in May to position two new divisions in Russia’s west, close to the Baltic states, as well as another one further south by Ukraine. Nato agreed in Warsaw to commit 1,000 more troops to each of the Baltic states.