Secretary of Defense Lloyd J. Austin III reaffirmed the United States' "ironclad" commitment to defend NATO allies and told Latvian officials that U.S. troops will continue a robust presence in their country.
The secretary met with Latvian President Egils Levits, Prime Minister Arturs Krisjanis Karins and Defense Minister Artis Pabriks in the Latvian capital of Riga. The officials discussed the NATO effort to deter President Vladimir Putin from threatening NATO allies, continuing support to Ukraine as it counters the Russian invasion, and bilateral U.S.-Latvian relations.
There are about 600 U.S. troops in Latvia, and Austin thanked the Latvian officials for being good hosts to those soldiers. Austin told the Latvian leaders that he was "especially proud to be here as we mark 100 years of unbroken U.S. diplomatic relations with your country." It is a little-known fact that the United States never recognized the validity of the former Soviet Union's occupation of the Baltic Republics of Estonia, Latvia and Lithuania as a result of the Hitler-Stalin Pact of 1939. Even after the Soviets re-occupied the Baltic nations in 1945, the nations maintained diplomatic ties in Washington.
Latvian Prime Minister Karins said that the great tragedy that is Russia's invasion of Ukraine only strengthens the ties between the United States and Latvia. "We're completely united in providing support for Ukraine," he said during his meeting with Austin. "We must support, and continue to support, Ukraine in this fight against an aggressor that is completely unprovoked, completely unjustified, and … is extremely brutal."
Austin thanked the Latvian leaders for their efforts. "You're supporting the Ukrainian people as they defend their democracy, their sovereignty and their territorial integrity," he said. "And, so, we will continue to work closely with you and our other NATO allies and partners around the world to support the Ukrainian people, and to bolster our NATO allies, and to stand strong against Russia's cruel and premeditated aggression against Ukraine."
The efforts of many nations — including Latvia and the United States — are making a difference on the battlefields in Ukraine, the secretary said.
Austin also assured the Latvian leaders that the United States will continue U.S. troop presence in the country, and he thanked them for supporting the more than 600 U.S. personnel now in the country. "As President [Joe] Biden announced at the Madrid NATO Summit, we will enhance our rotational deployments in the region and intensify our training with Baltic allies to further strengthen our combat posture in the region," Austin said.
The alliance between the two nations is strong, Austin said, and U.S. leaders want to work with Latvia to make it even stronger. "It's a perfect moment to reaffirm our ironclad commitments to European security and NATO allies," Austin said to the Latvian president. "Now, as I as I look at things [and] as I've said a number of times, Putin hoped to divide NATO, and I think what he's done is unite NATO."