NATO's continuing efforts to strengthen its position in the region with the deployment of its international battalions in all three countries alongside an existing US presence.
It is Matiss' first official visit to the Baltic states. Ahead of the meeting Latvia's Defense Minister Raimonds Bergmanis said:
"At a time when the geopolitical situation in our region continues to be tense, the US willingness to support Latvia and the Baltic States is priceless. It is also essential that the relationship between Latvia and the United States includes both close bilateral cooperation ties and successful cooperation within the NATO framework."
Šī noteikti ir vēsturiska diena Viļņā, kad Baltijas valstu ministri tiekas ar savu ASV kolēģi! Mūsu sadarbība drošībai kļūs arvien ciešāka! pic.twitter.com/7Ll39oXGgE— Raimonds Bergmanis (@RaimondsBrg) May 10, 2017
A release from the Lithuanian Defense Ministry said: "On May 10 Secretary of Defense of the United States James Mattis was welcomed in his first official visit in Lithuania by Minister of National Defense Raimundas Karoblis and Chief of Defense of Lithuania Lieutenant General Jonas Vytautas Žukas. The guest is planned to hold bilateral discussions with President of the Republic of Lithuania HE Dalia Grybauskaitė and Minister of National Defence Raimundas Karoblis. The officials are expected to address bilateral military cooperation and measures to further strengthening Lithuanian and regional security. The U.S. Defense Secretary will proceed to have a working lunch with the Ministers of Defense of Lithuania, Latvia and Estonia."
“This visit stands as another important piece of evidence that Lithuania has staunch allies and can feel safe,” Karoblis said.
After the meetings at the Presidential Palace and the working lunch the leading Baltic and U.S. defense officials went to General Silvestras Žukauskas Training Area in Pabradė to meet with U.S. troops deployed in Lithuania, representatives of the Lithuanian Armed Forces, soldiers of the NATO enhanced Forward Presence Battalion Battlegroup in Lithuania, and viewed equipment and weaponry.
Following the meeting between Mattis and Grybauskaite, the Lithuanian President's office issued a release saying:
"Dalia Grybauskaitė pointed out that the visit of the Secretary of Defense to Lithuania sent a clear message that the United States placed special focus on Lithuania’s, Latvia’s and Estonia’s security. Close and intensive relations with President Donald Trump’s administration, established from the very start, demonstrate that the United States understands very well the emerging external threats and challenges, and assesses them exactly like the Baltic states."
According to the President, a permanent presence of U.S. troops, its leadership in ensuring regional air defense and joint decisions in response to the military capacities in Kaliningrad, which are capable of restricting the freedom of maneuver of NATO forces, would reinforce the security of Lithuania and the other Baltic states even more.
In the afternoon, Bergmanis tweeted the following:
US and other media speculated on the possibility of Patriot missile systems being deployed in the Baltic states later this year, however Mattis declined to confirm this as fact and the sources cited were anonymous.
Speaking at the military base, Mattis said: "It sends a message that these fine troops from several NATO nations, working together, training together and making certain that there's no misunderstanding, that we all stand together purely in defense -- there is nothing offensive here, it is defensive to make certain that the NATO alliance article 5 is understood by everyone at home here in Lithuania, in the Baltic neighbors and certainly elsewhere in this region."