VILNIUS, Lithuania — Lithuania on Tuesday signed an agreement with the United States formalizing the presence of U.S. troops in the small Baltic country bordering Russia and Belarus.
The agreement will facilitate the deployment of U.S. forces and support staff as well as the implementation of joint exercises and training. According to the Lithuanian military, 140 U.S. troops are currently based permanently in Lithuania, and other units frequently visit for military drills.
Across Lithuania, Latvia and Estonia, fears are intensifying that Russia, after displaying its military might in Georgia, Ukraine and now Syria, could have the Baltic states in its sights next.
"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 during the signing ceremony.
"This agreement states the commitment of our nations to work together strengthening NATO, increasing stability in Europe and fighting global security threats," said U.S. Ambassador Anne Hall.
The agreement has yet to be ratified by parliament but is not expected to meet any significant opposition. The sense of vulnerability in much of Eastern Europe has been heightened by a feeling that the international order that brought peace and economic growth after the collapse of the Soviet Union is disintegrating.
The election as U.S. president of Donald Trump, who has said he might not automatically defend the Baltic states, underlines the shift.
"Both sides 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," said Linas Kojala, director of Eastern Europe Studies Center in Vilnius.
Late December, Sen. John McCain, chairman of the Senate Armed Services Committee, pledged America's support to the security of the Baltic countries amid their concerns over neighboring Russia and the new U.S administration.