Officials in Lithuania and Poland told Senate Minority Whip Richard J. Durbin they're concerned enough about the threat posed by Russia that they want to host U.S. military bases.
The Illinois Democrat traveled to the two NATO member states, as well as to Ukraine, during the Memorial Day break, meeting with officials in the three countries. Durbin told reporters Friday he met in Lithuania with the country's president and prime minister, as well as members of Parliament.
"They went so far to say they want the United States, if they will consider it, to put in a permanent military base in Lithuania, which I thought was an interesting request," Durbin said.
At a subsequent stop in Poland, Durbin said he heard similar sentiments from officials there, including from representatives for Polish President-elect Andrzej Duda.
"They, too, expressed concern about Putin's aggression and a desire to have the United States place permanent military facilities in their country," Durbin said. "We have, I might say, in both Lithuania and in Poland, ongoing exercises, maneuvers and training between American forces and NATO forces, but clearly they want more."
But Durbin, the ranking Democrat on the Defense Appropriations Subcommittee, said he made clear the current budgetary constraints back in the United States, including the statutory spending caps established by the Budget Control Act.
"I told both Lithuania and Poland that in light of our current federal budget and the debate over sequestration in the Department of Defense there are no plans to expand permanent military bases of the United States anywhere that I know of in this current budget cycle," Durbin said. "I do believe that we are doing the right thing by sending our troops in for training and maneuvers, and also in some cases, in Poland, meeting with the military leaders from Ukraine."
The broad takeaway from the region was concern about what Putin might do next, and the ability of NATO to respond appropriately to further Russian incursions in Ukraine.
"They take the situation with Putin very seriously. They believe that we need to be prepared to strike back if he shows further aggression, and they believe the United States must be a leader in that effort. Many of them will then follow," Durbin said.
Having noted that many leaders in the region expressed concern about the United States not being serious enough about the threat posed by Putin in Ukraine and elsewhere, Durbin was asked if he thought President Barack Obama viewed the threat seriously enough.
"We are putting more military assistance, the United States is putting more military assistance than any other county into Ukraine, number one. Number two, we are engaged in a larger training mission than any other country as well," Durbin said. "I think the president has taken Putin seriously. I think what he is dealing with here is a concern about whether the Europeans will back us if we go further, and secondly whether actions that we take would be provocative in and of themselves."
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