Remarks by U.S. Secretary of Defense Lloyd J. Austin III at a Press Availability in Tallinn

February 16, 2023

Good afternoon, everyone.

Minister Pevkur, thanks for hosting me in this beautiful city. It’s my first visit to Tallinn as Secretary of Defense, and I’m grateful for your warm welcome – especially in the February weather.
I was delighted to be able to host you in Washington last year, and I’m very glad that today, we could continue our dialogue on our bilateral defense partnership and regional security.

I was also delighted to have the chance to meet earlier today with Prime Minister Kallas.

So I want to make one thing very clear to the Estonian people today. The United States remains steadfastly committed to the freedom and sovereignty of our Baltic allies, and we stand united with you to deter and defend against any threat to our shared security.

Now, I’m visiting at a critical time for Europe and for the world. Next week will mark a year since Russia launched its full-scale invasion of its peaceful neighbor Ukraine, and we mourn the lives lost so needlessly in Putin’s cruel and unprovoked war of choice. As the Ukrainian people fight so bravely to defend their sovereignty, they remind us that we can never take our freedom for granted.

Now, Estonians understand that very well. And Estonians know how important it is for all countries to stand up for a free and sovereign Ukraine.

You’ve experienced the Kremlin’s aggression first-hand. And you’ve shown tremendous leadership in supporting Ukraine today. As a share of your economic size, Estonia has provided more military aid to Ukraine than any other country in the world, and you’ve made hard decisions to get Ukrainians the assistance that they need to defend themselves.

So thank you for your leadership. It’s truly a shining example to all countries, and Estonia’s leadership reminds us that small countries can make a big difference.

Now, Estonia is also making contributions further afield, and I welcome Estonia’s plans to increase its participation in Operation Inherent Resolve in Iraq, and Estonia continues to make critical investments in its own defense.

Your strong  defense spending and procurement of new capabilities are crucial  in deterring attacks against NATO, and the United States stands beside you as a friend and an ally. You can see that commitment in our recent deployment of U.S. forces in Estonia— including the HIMARS multiple-launch rocket system and our infantry.

Mr. Minister, we’ve just come from an important meeting of the Ukraine Defense Contact Group and a successful NATO Defense Ministerial.

Putin thought that he could divide NATO, but his aggression has achieved just the opposite. The NATO Alliance is more united and stronger than I’ve ever seen it. Now, we had a highly productive discussion today on strengthening our collective defense in response to Russia’s reckless assault on Ukraine. NATO is strengthening its deterrence and defense in the eastern part of the Alliance.

The United States is also enhancing its presence along the Alliance’s Eastern Flank, and we’ll maintain a persistent, rotational presence in the Baltics. So I’m confident that our two proud democracies will work together to meet any challenge. And together, we’ll continue to strengthen transatlantic security and to defend the rules-based international order that keeps us all safe.

Thank you. And we’d be glad to take a few questions.