U.S. Vice President Mike Pence on July 30 raised the possibility of deploying the Patriot antimissile defense system in Estonia, the country’s prime minister said.
"We spoke about it today, but we didn't talk about a date or time," Prime Minister Juri Ratas told state broadcaster ERR after Pence began a visit to the small Baltic nation on the border with Russia.
The U.S. Patriot defense system is a mobile, ground-based system designed to intercept missiles and warplanes.
Ratas also said the two leaders talked about the upcoming Russian military maneuvers planned for near the Estonian border, “and how Estonia, the United States, and NATO should monitor them and exchange information."
Pence, on the first stop of a trip that will also take him to Georgia and Montenegro, said in Estonia's capital, Tallinn, that Washington stands with the Baltic nations and other allies in Eastern Europe that have expressed concerns about Russia's intentions in their respective regions.
"Our message to the Baltic states -- my message when we visit Georgia and Montenegro -- will be the same: To our allies here in Eastern Europe, we are with you, we stand with you on behalf of freedoms," Pence said in an interview with Fox News.
After meeting with Ratas, Pence was scheduled to meet in Tallinn on July 31 with the presidents of Latvia and Lithuania – both, like Estonia, members of NATO and formerly under Moscow's rule during the Soviet era.
From there, Pence was scheduled to make stops in Georgia and the newest NATO member, Montenegro.
Senior U.S. administration officials said the trip is viewed as a follow-up to President Donald Trump's visit to Europe in early July.
Trump stopped in Poland and Germany to express support for NATO while on the same trip holding meetings with Russian President Vladimir Putin in an effort to improve ties with Moscow.
Early in his administration, Trump had unnerved some allies when he failed to explicitly mention Article 5 of the NATO treaty -- the provision stating that an attack on one NATO country is an attack on all members of the alliance.
But on July 6 in Warsaw, the U.S. president said the United States stands “firmly behind” Article 5 and criticized Russia for its activities in Europe.
Estonia and Montenegro are members of NATO, while Georgia has expressed hopes of joining the Western alliance.
Asked about Trump’s commitment to NATO's mutual-defense provision, Pence told reporters in Tallinn that the U.S. administration has "made it clear that the policy of our administration is to stand firmly with our NATO allies and to stand firmly behind our Article 5 commitment that an attack on one is an attack on all."
In Georgia, officials said Pence will highlight U.S. support for the Caucasus nation's sovereignty and territorial integrity.
Georgia has seen Russian encroachment on its territory. The Kremlin recognized Georgia's breakaway regions of Abkhazia and South Ossetia as independent countries after fighting a five-day war against Tbilisi in 2008. Russia maintains thousands of troops in the two regions.
Georgian President Giorgi Margvelashvili said on July 27 that Pence's visit will demonstrate that the United States continues to support Georgia in building a stronger military force.
During Pence’s visit, some 800 Georgian and 1,600 U.S. troops are taking part in the previously planned Noble Partner 2017 exercises. Pence is scheduled to meet with U.S. troops.
Troops from Britain, Germany, Turkey, Ukraine, Slovenia, and Armenia were also taking part.
"The vice president's presence here is definitely showing that this is not only about military exercises, but it is also showing unification with our values, with our foreign policy targets, and showing a clear message that we are together," Margvelashvili said.
The White House said Pence would arrive in Tbilisi in the evening on July 31 and participate in an official dinner hosted by Georgian Prime Minister Giorgi Kvrikashvili.
On the last stop, Pence will welcome NATO's newest member with his stop in Montenegro, whose accession to the alliance in June has infuriated Russia.
On August 2, he will attend the Adriatic Charter Summit in Montenegro's capital, Podgorica, U.S. officials said.
Pence was expected to highlight the U.S. commitment to the Western Balkans and stress the need for good governance, political reforms, and rule of law in the region.
The leaders of Albania, Bosnia-Herzegovina, Croatia, Kosovo, Macedonia, Serbia, and Slovenia are also scheduled to attend the summit.