North Atlantic Treaty Organisation jets intercept Russian aircraft near Estonian airspace

U.S. Vice President Mike Pence second right and Montenegro Prime Minister Dusko Markovic right attend a welcome ceremony at Golubovci airport near Podgorica Montenegro Tuesday Aug. 1 2017. Pence will attend the Adriatic Charter Summit in NATO's

North Atlantic Treaty Organisation jets intercept Russian aircraft near Estonian airspace

Earlier, he met the presidents of Estonia, Latvia and Lithuania for talks on security and regional issues.

Washington's pledge to commit to NATO's mutual defense is a vital issue for the three small former Soviet republics that border Russian Federation. "While our policy is America-first, it's not America-alone", Pence said. It closed a deal in June to sell liquefied natural gas (LNG) directly from the United States to the region.

From Estonia, Pence traveled later Monday to Georgia, where troops from the United States and other North Atlantic Treaty Organisation partners are conducting military exercises that began Sunday. Concerns about Russian expansionism have increased sharply in the Baltic region since Russia annexed Crimea from Ukraine three years ago.

Before departing for Georgia, Pence took shovel and planted an English oak outside the headquarters of the Estonian defense forces together with the leaders of Latvia and Lithuania. Pence's comments followed Trump's decision to sign a Russian sanctions bill, and Russia's retaliatory expulsion of 755 American diplomats.

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Lithuania hopes the USA will deploy as many as seven air force jets on its territory when European neighbors Russian Federation and Belarus flex their military muscles nearby in the Zapad drill in September, the Baltic news site Delfi reported Monday. According to a NATO statement, aircraft from non-NATO Finland were also scrambled.

Estonia now holds the rotating presidency of the 28-nation European Union.

Pence is in Estonia on the first leg of a European tour that also takes him to Georgia and Montenegro, two other regions facing strong pressure from Russian Federation.

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