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Estonia, Lithuania Sign Deals With U.S. To Allow Troop Deployments

U.S. troops conduct exercises in Latvia in October 2016.
U.S. troops conduct exercises in Latvia in October 2016.

Estonia and Lithuania moved on January 17 to shore up military relations with the United States ahead of the inauguration of President-elect Donald Trump.

The two Baltic states signed bilateral defense agreements with the United States to formalize the presence of U.S. troops in their countries, their defense ministries said.

The third Baltic state, Latvia, signed a similar deal with the United States last week.

The accords will ease the deployment of U.S. forces in the countries and allow for joint exercises and training.

"We are interested in the continued presence of American troops in Lithuania, as this is one of the key elements of our security," Defense Minister Raimundas Karoblis said.

Trump has called the NATO alliance that binds Latvia, Estonia, Lithuania with the United States and 24 other countries "obsolete." The comments caused a stir in the Baltic states, which have expressed concerns about the assertiveness of neighboring Russia following that country’s illegal annexation of Ukraine's Crimean Peninsula and support for separatists in eastern Ukraine.

Trump, who will take office on January 20, has repeatedly signaled his intent for warmer relations with Russia.

Linas Kojala, director of the Eastern Europe Studies Center in Vilnius, told the Associated Press that the moves are purposely being made to beat the clock on Trump’s inauguration.

"Both sides (the United States and Lithuania) aimed to finalize the agreement before the inauguration of U.S. President-elect Donald Trump, as the arrival of the new administration might push the issue to the bottom of the political agenda," Kojala said.

With reporting by dpa and AP
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