December 14, 2016 / 4:16 PM / 8 months ago

Baltic states urge strong U.S. defence commitment to region

TALLINN (Reuters) - The defence ministers of Latvia, Lithuania and Estonia renewed their call on Wednesday for a strong U.S. engagement in the Baltic region amid concerns over the attitude of the incoming Trump administration.

Donald Trump said during the U.S. presidential campaign that he would consider a country's contribution to the NATO alliance before coming to its defence, rattling many in Estonia, Lithuania and Latvia who fear a more assertive Russia.

Estonia meets NATO's defence spending target of two percent of national output, while Latvia and Lithuania say they aim to reach that level in the next few years.

In a statement issued after regular talks on defence cooperation, the defence ministers "expressed the utmost importance of the United States' robust commitment to Baltic states' security".

Latvia's Raimonds Bergmanis, Lithuania's Raimundas Karoblis and Estonia's Margus Tsahkna also urged Washington to ensure "credible deterrence by continuing persistent presence of the United States' forces and pre-positioning in the Baltic states".

In 2015, the United States agreed to pre-position tanks, artillery and other military equipment in eastern and central Europe to speed up an eventual deployment of forces at times of crisis.

In their statement, the three defence ministers said they wanted a long-term allied air and maritime presence in the Baltic Sea region, including the continuation of the enhanced NATO air-policing mission.

The tiny Baltic states, which were ruled by Moscow in communist times, were alarmed by Russia's annexation of Ukraine's Crimea peninsula in 2014 and its support for armed pro-Russian separatists in eastern Ukraine

Reporting by David Mardiste; Editing by Simon Johnson and Gareth Jones

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