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Trump doesn’t rule out ending military exercises in the Baltics

U.S. Marine Lance Cpl. Tyler Pokego charges up a beach dune during a simulated amphibious assault as part of Baltic Operations 2018 in Klaipeda, Lithuania, June 4, 2018. President Donald Trump on Thursday did not rule out curtailing war games in the Baltics should the issue come up during his upcoming meeting with Russian President Vladimir Putin.

ADAM C. STAPLETON/U.S. NAVY

By JOHN VANDIVER | STARS AND STRIPES Published: July 12, 2018

BRUSSELS — President Donald Trump on Thursday did not rule out curtailing military exercises in the Baltics should the issue arise during his upcoming meeting with Russian President Vladimir Putin.

“Perhaps we’ll talk about that,” Trump said after meeting with NATO allies in Brussels, after a reporter asked whether he would consider canceling the exercises.

Trump, who will meet with Putin in Helsinki on Monday, said he would be discussing the conflict in Syria, election meddling and Ukraine during his talks with the Russian leader.

Leading into the Putin summit, questions have swirled about what could be on the table as Trump negotiates.

Following a similar meeting with North Korea’s Kim Jong Un, Trump took the Pentagon by surprise when he announced that he would halt annual military exercises in South Korea, which he called “provocative,” in line with North Korea’s descriptions of the drills.

NATO Supreme Allied Commander Gen. Curtis M. Scaparrotti, when asked Thursday about the value of exercises in the Baltics, called the drills a linchpin to security in Europe.

"It's part of deterrence. It is not provocative," Scaparrotti said during a sideline discussion at the NATO summit.

The Baltics have become a focal point for the U.S. military and NATO in the years since Russia’s 2014 intervention in Ukraine. Multinational battle groups have been deployed to the three Baltic states and Poland in an effort to deter potential Russian aggression.

U.S. military drills in the region have grown in size in recent years. U.S. special operations forces also maintain a presence there as they work with allied forces.

Any move to end exercises in the Baltics would likely rattle allies on NATO’s eastern edge, which includes countries with a history of being dominated by the former Soviet Union.

During the NATO summit in Brussels, allies agreed to form a new northern command headquarters focused on managing operations in the Baltics.

Moscow, however, has frequently complained about the larger NATO presence on its periphery.

vandiver.john@stripes.com
Twitter: @john_vandiver

 

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