Recap of US-Baltic Presidential Summit
On Tuesday April 4, US President Donald Trump hosted a US-Baltic Presidential Summit. Latvia’s President Raimonds Vejonis, Estonia’s President Kersti Kaljulaid, and Lithuania’s President Dalia Grybauskaite met with Trump to recognize 100 years of Baltic independence and discuss three major points: energy independence from Russia, economic cooperation, and defense spending. Their meeting was followed by a joint press conference
The Baltic States are NATO’s territorial frontline to the Soviet Union, making them a valuable defense asset. The United States has maintained close ties with the Baltic States. Following World War I, Lithuania, Estonia, and Latvia emerged as independent nations. Twenty years later in 1939, under the Nazi-Soviet pact, the young countries were forcibly incorporated into the Soviet Union. Throughout the Cold War era they were aligned with the Soviet Bloc. In 1991, they declared independence from the USSR, and with the support of the United States, they joined NATO and the EU in 2004.
During the conference, the leaders discussed ensuring energy independence of Russia for the purpose of ending potential Russian influence. In his closing remarks, Trump announced plans to diversify routes and supplies and expand the Obama era exports of liquefied natural gas. Trump also discussed plans to strengthen economic cooperation by exploring outlets in science and medicine. He noted the US- Baltic Business Business summit that will follow to encourage bilateral trade.
On the topic of defense spending, Trump praised the Baltic states for their dedication to sharing the NATO security burden. In line with the NATO agreements, the defense spending benchmark is 2% of GDP. Estonia is above this guideline; Latvia and Lithuania have doubled their spending over the last three years.
The leaders also discussed intelligence and corruption deterrence. Many Baltic leaders are fluent in Russian and able to provide insights into the mechanisms of Russia. This is a valuable asset for NATO and the US. The countries agreed on an effort to manage corruption; due to rampant money laundering operations and banking scandals, the United States is concerned with Russian political influence.
Under growing international tensions with Russia, the US posture toward Russia is unclear. In the joint press conference, Trump stated that “nobody has been tougher on Russia than I have” but also that “a very good relationship with President Putin” is possible. The Baltic leaders affirmed support for the US posture. Given the history of trust with the US; the strength of their cooperation is vital. Concern over Russian ability to destabilize societies and manipulate domestic politics will be the focus of policies going forward between the United States and Baltic Nations.