The following is the Sept. 29, 2022, Congressional Research Service report, Estonia, Latvia, and Lithuania: Background and U.S.-Baltic Relations.
From the report
Estonia, Latvia, and Lithuania, often referred to as the Baltic states, are democracies and close U.S. allies. Strong U.S. relations with these three states are rooted in history. The United States never recognized the Soviet Union’s forcible incorporation of the Baltic states in 1940, and U.S. officials applauded the restoration of their independence in 1991. Congress backed these policies on a bipartisan basis. The United States supported the Baltic states’ accession to the North Atlantic Treaty Organization (NATO) and the European Union (EU) in 2004. Especially since Russia’s initial invasion of Ukraine in 2014, potential threats posed to the Baltic states by Russia have been a primary driver of increased U.S. and congressional interest in the region.
Regional Security Concerns
Russia’s February 2022 renewed invasion of Ukraine has intensified U.S. and NATO concerns about the potential threat of Russian military action against the Baltic states. The Baltic states have supported Ukraine, including by providing military assistance and imposing sanctions against Russia that go beyond those adopted by the EU. Baltic states have been seeking to build up their military capabilities, but their armed forces remain relatively small and their capabilities limited. Consequently, the Baltic states’ defense planning relies heavily on their NATO membership. The Baltic states fulfill NATO’s target for member states to spend at least 2% of gross domestic product on defense.
Defense Cooperation and Security Assistance
The United States and the Baltic states cooperate closely on defense and security issues for the purposes of building capacity to deter and resist potential Russian aggression. In FY2021 and FY2022 combined, Congress appropriated nearly $349 million in U.S. Department of Defense security assistance funding to the Baltic states through the Baltic Security Initiative.
Under the U.S. European Deterrence Initiative (EDI), launched in 2014, the United States has enhanced its military presence in Central and Eastern Europe, with rotational U.S. forces conducting training and exercises in the Baltic states. The United States has stationed additional personnel and capabilities in the Baltic states since February 2022. NATO also has helped to bolster the Baltic states’ security. In 2016, the allies agreed to deploy multinational Enhanced Forward Presence battlegroups to the Baltic states. NATO allies have deployed additional personnel to these battlegroups since February 2022. Baltic leaders have advocated for further enhancements to the U.S. and NATO deployments.
Potential Hybrid Threats
Some observers have expressed concerns that Russia could use the Baltic states’ ethnic Russian minorities as a pretext to manufacture a crisis. Many ethnic Russians in the Baltic states traditionally receive their news from Russian media sources, potentially making those communities a leading target for disinformation and propaganda. The Baltic states suspended many Russia-based television channels following Russia’s 2022 invasion of Ukraine. Cyberattacks are another potential hybrid threat; addressing potential vulnerabilities with regard to cybersecurity is a top priority of the Baltic states.
The Baltic states have taken steps to end energy reliance on Russia, including through a liquefied natural gas (LNG) terminal in Lithuania and new pipeline interconnections with their European neighbors. Lithuania ended imports of Russian gas in April 2022, and Estonia and Latvia plan to do the same by the end of 2022.
Relations with China
A variety of factors have contributed to the Baltic states developing a skeptical view of China over the past several years. In 2021 (Lithuania) and 2022 (Estonia and Latvia), the Baltic states quit the 17+1, a forum China launched to deepen cooperation with countries in Central and Eastern Europe. Tensions between Lithuania and China are especially acute, with China recently launching a de facto trade embargo against Lithuania due to Lithuania’s expanded relations with Taiwan.
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