Meeting regional heads of state in Poland this evening to discuss Russia's annexation of Crimea and regional security, US Vice President Joseph Biden said NATO's collective defense guarantee was sacrosanct and called for "permanent and sustainable" solutions to significantly increase the US and NATO presence in the Baltic countries and Poland.
Biden referred to the recent decisions by the United States and Great Britain to shore up air defenses, in which the Americans contributed more F-15 fighter planes to the Baltic Air Policing Mission they currently lead, and the British pledged Typhoon fighters in the next rotation. He said the US was exploring "additional steps," including sending troops to conduct ground and naval exercises and training missions in the Baltic region.
Regarding the situation in Ukraine, neither President Toomas Hendrik Ilves or Biden minced any words, maintaining that Crimea was not "lost" and that Russia's aggression had severely damaged its relations with the West.
Biden called the annexation of Crimea a "land grab." Ilves said Russia violated "all written and unwritten" rules governing international relations and turned the clock back on relations with the West by "several decades."
The leaders said international observers had to be sent to eastern Ukraine without delay.
Some sources saw a step further. Postimees daily led with a headline emphasizing what it said was a mention by Biden of additional deployments: "US considering sending rotating forces to Baltic region." That was also considered to be a possibility in comments by veteran geopolitical watchers such as The Economist's Edward Lucas, who speculated in the run-up to the summit that, depending on Russia's reaction, a possible "Baltic missile crisis" could be precipitated.
No specific timing of the NATO military steps was announced, however, and so far the week has brought only travel bans on select Russian and Ukrainian officials. Closely on the heels of the meeting, an apparent violation of the five-day truce in Crimea was widely reported - a Ukrainian base was attacked by an "unknown enemy," leaving one dead and one or two wounded.