Two Rafale French fighter jets, left, and two Polish MiG-29s fly over the air base April 29 in Malbork, Poland. (Joel Saget / AFP)
WASHINGTON — The Pentagon is looking at additional support measures for its Eastern European NATO allies increasingly worried over Russia’s military actions in Ukraine, a spokesman said Tuesday.
In particular, the US is planning to beef up training exercises planned for June in the Baltic states, as Moscow hit back at what it called the West’s “Iron Curtain” sanctions.
Separately, US Vice President Joe Biden met Latvian Prime Minister Laimdota Straujuma at the White House and underscored Washington’s “ironclad commitment” to the collective defense of its NATO allies, the White House said in a statement.
“The two leaders discussed the critical importance of bolstering Europe’s energy security through coordinated actions among European states,” it added.
The Pentagon plans to make the land and sea exercises “more robust, using additional assets that are already in Europe; perhaps more aircraft, maybe more ships,” Rear Adm. John Kirby said.
US Defense Secretary Chuck Hagel had suggested this to his Estonian counterpart Sven Mikser during a meeting Tuesday at the Pentagon.
In addition to sending an air force detachment to Poland, the US has also sent 150-strong units to Poland and to each of the three Baltic states — countries that spent five decades under Soviet rule and joined NATO in 2004.
The last contingent of troops arrived Monday in Estonia.
The Pentagon is looking for ways “to keep that presence rotational and persistent throughout the end of this calendar year,” Kirby said.
Hagel also had a 45-minute phone call with his Russian counterpart Sergei Shoigu that was “at times terse,” Kirby added.
Nevertheless, “both of them agreed that it’s time for the tension to decrease and it’s time for good, solid diplomatic solutions. I think the difference, though, is on how do you... get at that?” he said.
And contrary to Moscow’s declaration that Russian troops that participated in exercises near the border with Ukraine have returned to their barracks, the US said it hadn’t “seen a major pullback.”