President Donald Trump made the case to the leaders of the Baltic nations that the US was “very tough on Russia”, pointing to US support for increased defence spending by Nato countries as a check on Moscow’s aggression.
Mr Trump, joined by the leaders of Estonia, Latvia and Lithuania, spoke a day after the White House dangled the prospect of extending a White House welcome to Russian President Vladimir Putin.
“Nobody has been tougher on Russia but getting along with Russia would be a good thing, not a bad thing. And just about everybody agrees to that except very stupid people,” Mr Trump said.
He added: “We’ve been very tough on Russia, frankly.”
Mr Trump was asked by a reporter if he considered Mr Putin to be a friend or foe and replied: “We’ll find out. I’ll let you know.”
Britain recently blamed Russia for the nerve-agent poisoning of a former Russian spy on British soil.
Mr Trump joined Britain in expelling scores of Russian diplomats in response.
Mr Trump has pressured Nato members to boost their military budgets to meet a benchmark of 2% of their GDP on defence annually. He cited that as a benefit to three nations, which are Nato members and remain anxious over Russia’s increasing military manoeuvres in the Baltic Sea region.
Lithuania’s Dalia Grybauskaite told Mr Trump the US role in Nato is essential, calling the nation a “vital voice” in the military alliance.
“We expect, together with the United States, to go ahead with deep reforms of Nato, especially on decision-making, on decisiveness, on the denial which we expect to see from Russia in case of aggression,” Ms Grybauskaite said.
“Without the United States this is not possible.”
Mr Trump said Nato “has taken many billions of dollars more than they would have had if you had crooked Hillary Clinton as president”.
The 2% benchmark concerns how much each country spends on its own defence, not what it pays into Nato.
The leaders were expected to discuss security, business, trade and energy issues during a visit in which Mr Trump also noted their 100 years of Baltic independence.