Russia Diplomat Says U.S. Abandoning NATO Allies in Europe Like it Did Afghans

Russian Foreign Ministry spokesperson Maria Zakharova has hit out at Baltic NATO states after top diplomats told Newsweek that the U.S. must retain its focus on Moscow even as it pivots to meet the China challenge.

Latvian Foreign Minister Edgars Rinkevics, Estonian Foreign Minister Eva-Maria Liimets, and Lithuanian foreign affairs Vice Minister Mantas Adomenas, all warned in exclusive interviews that the Russian threat has not dissipated and that Eastern Europe must remain a top American foreign policy priority.

On Monday, Zakharova suggested on her personal Telegram channel that the appeal from the Baltic states was evidence of America's waning clout abroad.

The diplomat accused the Baltic states of adopting and practicing American "Russophobia for many years and, contrary to their own interests, bringing relations with Russia to naught."

"These political regimes are very afraid that they will not be able to cling to the wing of an American plane leaving the limits of their former geopolitical influence," Zakharova wrote, alluding to the Afghans who fell to their deaths from American military aircraft evacuating Kabul airport in August.

The diplomats from the Baltics had said taking attention off Russia and Eastern Europe risked encouraging more opportunistic aggression by President Vladimir Putin, akin to the Russian seizure and annexation of Ukraine's Crimea peninsula in 2014 and the Kremlin's backing for separatist militias in the east of the country that remain at war with Kyiv.

"While addressing one challenge, let's not forget about another," Rinkevics said. "Otherwise one morning we are going to wake up with a very unpleasant surprise, and then we will be again trying to understand who missed what."

NATO's Baltic states sit along the front line with Russia and have been reinforced in recent years by the alliance's Enhanced Forward Presence program, which is designed to deter the kind of Russian aggression that pulled Ukraine into war.

Adomenas said greater the NATO presence along Russia's frontiers reduced the risk of aggressive Russian action. "One never knows when Putin might need to bolster his regime," Adomenas said.

"The problem is that he tries to resolve his domestic political problems—waning popularity and economic difficulties—through some other interventions.

"So we should be prepared, and I think greater presence will be a greater guarantee."

The Baltic states remain deeply concerned by the Nord Stream 2 pipeline, which will soon begin delivering Russian natural gas to Germany via the Baltic Sea.

The pipeline will go ahead despite fierce opposition from the U.S. and a host of European nations, Germany having overridden concerns that the pipeline would undermine collective European and NATO security.

A U.S.-German agreement to ensure that Russia cannot weaponize the pipeline was designed to soothe concerns of other European states, but all three Baltic diplomats said they remain unconvinced.

Ukraine, too, is furious that the pipeline is going ahead. Currently, significant Russian gas runs through Ukraine, lending Kyiv strategic value to Europe and earning the government billions in annual transit fees.

The current transit deal is due to expire in 2024. Ukrainian and Baltic leaders have warned that Nord Stream 2 makes it more likely that Russia will stop sending natural gas through Ukraine, undermining Kyiv's strategic position and cutting off its transit earnings.

Maria Zakharova at UN in 2019
Russian Foreign Ministry spokesperson Maria Zakharova is pictured at the United Nations in New York City, New York, on September 27, 2019. EuropaNewswire/Gado/Getty Images