July 13 (UPI) -- Latvia is prepared to house, and pay for, U.S. troops if they leave Germany, Latvia's defense minister told a Bookings Institution virtual conference.
"We are ready, and this is an official announcement, we are ready to invest to receive a certain amount of American troops on Latvian soil," Defense Minister and Deputy Prime Minister Artis Pabriks said Friday. "We are not trying to punish the Germans. We don't want to compete, but if it's really inevitable, then we are ready to receive you,"
A deployment would be the first large-scale housing of U.S. troops in the Baltic country, a part of the former Soviet Union and a NATO member since 2004. Pabriks later said he would welcome negotiations with the United States on a deployment, emphasizing the importance of maintaining a NATO force on the border between NATO countries and Russia.
The White House issued an order in June to reduce U.S. troops in Germany by one-third, to about 25,000 troops. Poland has expressed interest in absorbing an increased U.S. presence, and on June 24, with Polish President Andrzej Duda present at the White House, President Donald Trump said that he expected some troops in Germany to be relocated to Poland.
There is no announced timeline to reduce the U.S. presence in Germany.Latvia has been called a good example of a NATO member willing to invest at least 2 percent of its gross domestic product on defense, a point Pabriks mentioned in an interview after the Brookings presentation.
"Poland has already received the green light. It will see an increase in the presence of the U.S. troops, so it is important that the U.S. public and politicians understand that the Baltic States and Latvia are ready to host U.S. troops as well, as it will provide additional security for the region and the alliance as a whole. We are also prepared to pay for this, firstly by showing that we are devoting at least 2 percent of GDP to defense, and secondly, by developing the necessary infrastructure as a host country."
About 1,500 soldiers from nine NATO countries are stationed in Latvia. The majority, about 500, are from Canada, with Spain, Poland, Italy and Slovakia contributing the rest. In October 2019, 500 U.S. troops were moved to Lithuania, which neighbors Latvia, for a six-month deployment.