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Baltic States Nervous Over Trump's Attitude Toward Russia


More on international reaction now. Over the past several years, U.S.-Russia relations have deteriorated. But President-elect Trump and President Vladimir Putin say they are hoping to forge stronger ties. And that worries some of Russia's neighbors. Baltic states Lithuania, Latvia and Estonia are all NATO members, and they are nervous about Trump's criticisms of NATO, especially as Russia seeks to weaken that alliance. NPR's Moscow correspondent Lucian Kim is in Tallinn, the capital of Estonia. Welcome, and thanks so much for joining us.

LUCIAN KIM, BYLINE: Good to be with you, Michel.

MARTIN: So what have you been hearing from Estonians?

KIM: Well, probably the best words to describe the mood here are worried and puzzled. What's interesting is nobody actually wants to go on the record and talk publicly about it. Just by coincidence, the Estonian governing coalition collapsed the day after the U.S. elections. So politicians are sort of in their own negotiations, and they're taking a wait-and-see attitude towards what happens in the U.S. It should be said, though, that, you know, Brexit was really a big shock for the Estonians, and now the U.S. elections are coming as a second - second big shock.

MARTIN: How closely do people follow the U.S. elections there? Are they aware that President-elect Trump took some positions on NATO?

KIM: Oh, well, they're very aware of the comments here. Why it's so sensitive in the Baltic states is that they were annexed by the Soviet Union at the end of World War II. Once the Baltic countries gained independence in 1991, they really saw joining NATO and the European Union as the best guarantee for their security.

And why they're now feeling uncertain was, well, first of all, there was the annexation of Crimea by Russia in 2014, and that really created new worries here. The Baltic states are really quite defenseless. They don't have their own air forces and they have no tanks.

MARTIN: And we know that Donald Trump and former Putin are friendly. But how might that friendship, or whatever it is, effect the Baltic situation?

KIM: Well, from what I'm hearing is the main worry for the Baltics is that some kind of deal will be struck above their heads. These are very small countries. And in their history, larger countries have often decided their fate. Interestingly enough, one name that I've been hearing ever since I arrived in Tallinn is Newt Gingrich. Of course, he's being considered as a possible secretary of state. And that makes people in Estonia especially very nervous. During the summer, Gingrich called Estonia a suburb of St. Petersburg and said it's probably not worth risking a nuclear war for that suburb.

MARTIN: Well, before we let you go, Lucian, it's really hard to calibrate such a thing, but what is the sense there of how realistic these fears are of kind of further - of Russian aggression in this area? Is that deemed to be a real possibility?

KIM: Well, I put that question to a former Estonian diplomat. It was actually interesting what he said. He said the threat isn't constant. He said if there is a strong deterrent, if the West is firm and unified, then the threat level is actually quite low. But if there is a weak deterrent or no deterrent, then the threat level goes up because the Kremlin might be encouraged to test NATO's commitment to that area. Actually, to counter that perception, any perception or misconceptions in Moscow, NATO has decided to deploy troops to the Baltic region starting next year. And Estonians are working under the assumption that that will not change under a Trump administration.

MARTIN: That's NPR's Lucian Kim in Tallinn, the capital of Estonia. Lucian, thanks so much for joining us.

KIM: Thanks, Michel. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

Lucian Kim
Lucian Kim is NPR's international correspondent based in Moscow. He has been reporting on Europe and the former Soviet Union for the past two decades.
Michel Martin
Michel Martin is the weekend host of All Things Considered and host of the Consider This Saturday podcast, where she draws on her deep reporting and interviewing experience to dig in to the week's news. Outside the studio, she has also hosted "Michel Martin: Going There," an ambitious live event series in collaboration with Member Stations.
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