VILNIUS, Lithuania (AP) — The three Baltic countries — Estonia, Latvia and Lithuania — are asking NATO to permanently deploy ground troops to their nations as a deterrent against an increasingly assertive Russia.
The countries' defense chiefs requested a brigade-size unit of NATO troops — one battalion of 700-800 troops in each country — in a joint letter this week to the supreme allied commander in Europe, said Capt. Mindaugas Neimontas, a spokesman for Lithuania's chief of defense.
"It is necessary because of the security situation," Neimontas told The Associated Press on Thursday. "It's not getting better in our region, so it will be a deterrent."
The Baltic countries — former Soviet republics that regained independence amid the collapse of the Soviet Union over two decades ago — have been alarmed by Moscow's intervention in Ukraine and the increasing activity of Russian forces in the Baltic Sea.
NATO forces, including from the U.S., have also stepped up military exercises in the Baltics and other Eastern European nations in the wake of the Ukraine crisis.
NATO Secretary-General Jens Stoltenberg said the request would be "assessed carefully," but gave no commitment beyond that.
Speaking to reporters at a meeting of NATO foreign ministers in Antalya, Turkey, Stoltenberg underlined that the alliance has already increased its military presence in the Baltic region and is in the process of establishing quick response forces that will make it easier to reinforce the Baltic states if needed.
"The main message is that NATO is ready. And NATO is prepared. And we will defend all allies against any threat," Stoltenberg said.
Vladimir Chizhov, Russia's ambassador to the European Union, said the Baltic request was motivated by "local politics rather than a genuine security situation."
"Because nobody is threatening the Baltics — at least, nobody that I know of," he said.
Karl Ritter in Stockholm and John-Thor Dahlburg in Brussels contributed to this report.