President Barack Obama said Friday that an agreement between the U.S. and five Nordic nations to increase cooperation in the face of rising Russian aggression is an effort to ensure that "smaller nations are not bullied by larger nations.”
The president hosted the leaders of Sweden, Norway, Denmark, Finland and Iceland at the White House for a summit covering issues that included Islamic State terrorism, climate change and the Transatlantic Trade and Investment Partnership (T-TIP) deal.
“We’re united in our concern about Russia’s growing aggressive military presence and posture in the Baltic/Nordic region,” Obama told reporters after multilateral talks.
While the countries will keep pushing for dialogue and cooperation with Moscow, Obama added, “we also want to make sure that we are prepared and strong, and we want to encourage Russia to keep its military activities in full compliance with international obligations.”
The nations vowed to increase cooperation between NATO and the European Union. Denmark and Norway will also contribute to what Obama called “an enhanced allied forward presence to bolster our collective defense in Europe.”
The NATO alliance is expected to announce the deployment of a multinational force to Baltic states and Poland during a July NATO summit in Warsaw.
Tensions have been rising since Russia’s 2014 annexation of Crimea, support for pro-separatist rebels in eastern Ukraine, and ongoing violations of the Minsk agreements, which aim to de-escalate the conflict.
Since then, the NATO alliance and Russia have bolstered their military presence and activities in the region, and the rhetoric between Russia and the West has also escalated.
In March, Russia’s ambassador to Denmark said the NATO country could be targeted by nuclear missiles if it joined the alliance’s anti-missile shield.
In April, U.S. and European Union officials accused Russia of conducting aggressive and unsafe military maneuvers over international waters in the region. Moscow denied the claim.
Also last month, Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov warned Sweden not to join NATO, saying that if it did side with the alliance, Moscow would “take necessary measures.” Sweden has had a long-standing policy of remaining neutral in armed conflicts.
The U.S.-Nordic summit came one day after the U.S. anti-missile defense system in Romania, aimed at protecting NATO members, became operational. The move infuriated Moscow, despite assurances from Washington that Russia is not a target.