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Baltic States Come Out Swinging After Trump Says He Might Abandon NATO

Baltic leaders are not amused by Donald Trump's suggestion he would abandon Baltic states.

BOULDER, CO - OCTOBER 28:  Presidential candidate Donald Trump gives a thumbs up during  the CNBC Republican Presidential Debate at University of Colorados Coors Events Center October 28, 2015 in Boulder, Colorado.  Fourteen Republican presidential candidates are participating in the third set of Republican presidential debates.  (Photo by Justin Sullivan/Getty Images)
BOULDER, CO - OCTOBER 28: Presidential candidate Donald Trump gives a thumbs up during the CNBC Republican Presidential Debate at University of Colorados Coors Events Center October 28, 2015 in Boulder, Colorado. Fourteen Republican presidential candidates are participating in the third set of Republican presidential debates. (Photo by Justin Sullivan/Getty Images)

Donald Trump told the New York Times that if Russia invaded Baltic members of NATO, he would have to review whether those countries “have fulfilled their obligations to us” before deciding whether to come to their defense, as mandated by the military alliance’s formal charter.

“You can’t forget the bills,” Trump said. “They have an obligation to make payments. Many NATO nations are not making payments, are not making what they’re supposed to make. That’s a big thing. You can’t say forget that.”

It looks like Toomas Hendrik Ilves, president of Estonia — one of the countries Trump threatened not to protect — just wanted to clear a few things up. He pointed out on Twitter that Estonia is one of just five European countries to fulfill NATO’s target that nations spend at least 2 percent of their GDP on defense.

Estonia isn’t the only Baltic country feeling the heat from Trump’s comments. In an interview with Foreign Policy on Thursday, the Latvian ambassador to the United States, Andris Razāns, touted the fact that while his country has not yet reached the 2 percent defense spending threshold, “we have, by law, committed to have this 2 percent in 2018.” He also noted that “we are increasing very dramatically defense spending more than 40 percent this year.”

Razāns added his view that an ironclad commitment by NATO members to each other is more important than ever given Russia’s recent aggressive behavior towards its neighbors in Ukraine, Georgia and the Baltic states. At the same time, he emphasized that Latvia does not usually comment on the remarks of political figures during “pre-election time,” but given the invocation of the Baltic states by the Times and Trump, Razāns said he wanted to clarify Latvia’s commitment to the alliance.

Ilves was also much more diplomatic than Trump, refusing to say that his reason for the tweets was the GOP nominee’s suggestion he would allow Russia to invade American allies without necessarily coming to their aid.

“No reason to read so much into my sentences about Estonia’s role in NATO,” he wrote. “I’m simply Sgt Joe Friday: ‘Just the facts, ma’am, just the facts.’”

That last bit is an ultra-American reference to the lead detective in “Dragnet,” which premiered as a radio drama on NBC in the mid-20th century and later was turned into a television series and movies.

Correction: The Latvian ambassador to the U.S. was originally misidentified. His name is Andris Razāns. 

Photo credit: Justin Sullivan/Getty Images

John Hudson is a senior reporter at Foreign Policy, where he covers diplomacy and national security issues in Washington. He has reported from several geopolitical hotspots, including Ukraine, Pakistan, Malaysia, China, and Georgia. Prior to joining FP, John covered politics and global affairs for the Atlantic magazine’s news blog, the Atlantic Wire. In 2008, he covered the August war between Russia and Georgia from Tbilisi and the breakaway region of Abkhazia. He has appeared on CNN, MSNBC, BBC, C-SPAN, Fox News radio, Al Jazeera, and other broadcast outlets. He has been with the magazine since 2013. @john_hudson

Siobhán O’Grady is a freelance journalist working across sub-Saharan Africa. She previously worked as a staff writer at Foreign Policy. @siobhan_ogrady

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