TALLINN, Estonia, July 2 (UPI) -- Estonia's anxiety over a potential threat from Russia was calmed by NATO naval exercise off its coast, a new NATO airbase and comforting words Wednesday by the U.S. ambassador.
Speaking to an audience of about 1,000 at a pre-Independence Day celebration in Tallinn, Estonia's capital, U.S. Ambassador to Estonia Jeff Levine said, "The United States, both as a friend and as an ally in NATO, is committed to Estonia's security. In the last four months, we have had boots on the ground, planes in the air and ships at sea."
The crowd included U.S. soldiers and sailors from the destroyer Oscar Austin, anchored nearby.
Estonia, Latvia and Lithuania -- former Soviet Union republics whose declared independence in 1991 and are now NATO members -- have concerns for their security following Russia's annexation of Crimea and suspected involvement with pro-Russian separatists in Ukraine.
"The conflict in Ukraine showed us pretty clearly that Russia is willing, and Russia is able to move the forces pretty quickly. We have to send constant messages to the potential adversary that they should not even think about doing something similar to Crimea or the eastern part of Ukraine, in Estonia," Estonian Defense Ministry Permanent Secretary Mikk Marran said.
Calming their fears is a new NATO-level air training base in Amari, Estonia -- built at a cost of $100 million -- and the home of Estonia's tiny air force, as well as the recently concluded naval exercises.
Commander of the destroyer, Brian Diebold, said the exercises could be "characterized as 28 ships, 14 nations -- and one team finished." In naming the participants, he added, "Denmark, Estonia, Georgia, there was Lithuania, Latvia, France, Demark, Germany, the UK, the U.S. I can't even remember all 14 of them."
A large order of U.S. anti-tank weapons will be ordered by Estonia within several weeks.