U.S. Vice President Mike Pence arrived in Estonia on July 30, his first stop on a trip to three countries that have expressed concerns about Russia's intentions in their regions.
Pence was set to meet with Estonian Prime Minister Juri Ratas in Tallinn on July 30 to discuss bilateral relations, and later in the day with the Presidents of Estonia, Latvia, and Lithuania -- all NATO members that were under Moscow's rule during the Soviet era.
From there, Pence was scheduled to make subsequent stops in Georgia and the newest NATO member, Montenegro.
Senior U.S. administration officials said the trip is viewed as a follow-up to President Donald Trump's visit to Europe in early July.
Trump stopped in Poland and Germany to express support for NATO while on the same trip holding meetings with Russian President Vladimir Putin in an effort to improve ties with Moscow.
Early in his administration, Trump had unnerved some allies when he failed to explicitly mention Article 5 of the NATO treaty -- the provision stating that an attack on one NATO country is an attack on all members of the alliance.
But on July 6 in Warsaw, the U.S. president said the United States stands “firmly behind” Article 5 and criticized Russia for its activities in Europe.
Estonia and Montenegro are members of NATO, while Georgia has expressed hopes of joining the Western alliance.
Along with underscoring the U.S. commitment to the three nations’ security, Pence also will likely express support for U.S. trade and investment with the countries, U.S. administration officials said.
The officials added that Pence also will stress the virtues of freedom of speech, democracy, and religious tolerance.
While in Estonia, Pence will meet with Prime Minister Juri Ratas as well as with leaders of Latvia and Lithuania.
In Georgia starting on July 31, officials said Pence will highlight U.S. support for the Caucasus nation’s sovereignty and territorial integrity.
Georgia has seen Russian encroachment on its territory. In 2008, Russia’s army invaded Georgia and seized control of two of Georgia's breakaway regions, South Ossetia and Abkhazia.
Georgian President Giorgi Margvelashvili said on July 27 that Pence’s visit will demonstrate that the United States continues to support Georgia in building a stronger military force.
Margvelashvili said the Georgian army would start two weeks of exercises with the United States and other partner countries on July 30, the day before Pence's visit to Tbilisi. Pence is scheduled to meet with U.S. troops.
"The vice president's presence here is definitely showing that this is not only about military exercises, but it is also showing unification with our values, with our foreign policy targets, and showing a clear message that we are together," Margvelashvili said.
On the last stop, Pence will welcome NATO’s newest member with his stop in Montenegro, whose accession to the alliance in June has infuriated Russia.
On August 2, he will attend the Adriatic Charter Summit in Montenegro's capital, Podgorica. U.S. officials said.
Pence was expected highlight the U.S. commitment to the Western Balkans and stress the need for good governance, political reforms, and rule of law in the region.
The leaders of Albania, Bosnia -Herzegovina, Croatia, Kosovo, Macedonia, Serbia, and Slovenia are also scheduled to attend the summit.