- The Washington Times - Monday, July 31, 2017

Vice President Mike Pence stood on Russia’s doorstep and pledged to NATO’s Baltic members Monday that the Trump administration would be there to confront the threats and intimidation from Moscow.

In a visit to Estonia, Mr. Pence gave a forceful speech that reassured NATO allies of the U.S. commitment to the defense pact and its solidarity with Baltic states in the face of mounting pressure from Russian President Vladimir Putin.

“At this very moment, Russia continues to seek to redraw international borders by force, undermine the democracies of sovereign nations and divide the free nations of Europe one against another,” Mr. Pence said after meeting with the presidents of Estonia, Latvia and Lithuania.

He said that he was in Eastern Europe to deliver a message from Mr. Trump that “the United States of America is with you.”

The tough talk during Mr. Trump’s visit to Eastern Europe coincided with mounting tensions between Washington and Moscow.

Mr. Putin expelled 755 U.S. diplomats from Russia in retaliation for new sanctions legislation Mr. Trump is expected to sign.

The legislation codified financial and diplomatic sanctions on Russia for its annexation of Crimea and meddling in the U.S. presidential election. It was viewed as a legislative check on Mr. Trump’s ability to unilaterally cancel sanctions, but the president ultimately embraced the measure that passed both chambers with vetoproof majorities.

The tit-for-tat sanctions highlighted the strained relationship between Mr. Trump and Mr. Putin due to Democrats’ unproven allegations that the Trump campaign colluded with Moscow to meddle in the election.

“Under President Trump, the United States will continue to hold Russia accountable for its actions — and we call on our European allies and friends to do the same,” said Mr. Pence.

“To be clear,” said Mr. Pence, “we hope for better days, and better relations with Russia, [but] recent diplomatic action taken by Moscow will not deter the commitment of the United States to our security, the security of our allies and the security of freedom-loving nations around the world.”

The message reinforced Mr. Trump’s support of NATO’s Article 5, which pledges mutual defense for all member nations and is the heart of the alliance. Some NATO allies have sought reassurance the U.S. remained committed to the pact after Mr. Trump called it “obsolete” during the campaign, pushed member nations to pay a larger share for their own defense and declined to repeat the pledge in his first address to fellow NATO leaders at a May summit in Brussels.

The former Soviet states of Estonia, Latvia and Lithuania became NATO members in 2004, part of a NATO expansion into Eastern Europe that alarmed Russia.

“We stand together, here and across the world, because we know that a strong and united NATO is more necessary today than at any point since the collapse of communism a quarter-century ago, and no threat looms larger in the Baltic states than the specter of aggression from your unpredictable neighbor to the east,” said Mr. Pence.

The vice president also met NATO troops from Britain, France and the U.S. that are stationed in Estonia. The alliance has deployed some 4,000 troops and military hardware in the three Baltic states and Poland to counter Russia’s buildup in the region.

Mr. Pence is in Estonia on the first leg of a European tour that also takes him to Georgia and Montenegro, two other countries facing strong pressure from Russia.

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