The three Baltic states of Estonia, Latvia, and Lithuania face the specter of aggression from Russia, US Vice President Mike Pence has claimed.
"No threat looms larger in the Baltic States than the specter of aggression from your unpredictable neighbor to the east," Pence on Monday during a joint press conference with Baltic leaders in Tallinn, Estonia.
"At this very moment, Russia continues to seek to redraw international borders by force, undermine democracies of sovereign nations, and divide the free nations of Europe -- one against another,” he added.
Earlier this month, the US deployed the Patriot missile system to Lithuania to be used in NATO military drills, the first time the advanced missiles have been sent to the Baltics near Russia's border.
Lithuania, Latvia and Estonia possess only short-range anti-aircraft missiles, leaving their air space largely unprotected in the event of hostilities.
The Baltic states have expressed concern about their air defense weakness in the face of Russian air superiority.
Pence said the United States "rejects any attempt to use force, threats, intimidation, or malign influence in the Baltic States or against any of our treaty allies."
"To be clear: We hope for better days, for better relations with Russia," he added.
He went on to say that Russia’s recent expulsion of hundreds of US diplomats won't deter Washington’s commitment to security.
"But recent diplomatic action taken by Moscow will not deter the commitment of the United States of America to our security, the security of our allies, and the security of freedom-loving nations around the world,” he said.
His comments come after Russian President Vladimir Putin ordered 755 US diplomatic mission staff to leave the country.
The expulsion came after the US Congress approved new sanctions against Russia, Iran and North Korea.
The new congressional resolution is particularly aimed at punishing Moscow for its alleged meddling in the 2016 US presidential election and the reunion of Crimea with Russia.
The reunion happened after about 97 percent voters of the Autonomous Republic of Crimea backed "going home" in a referendum on March 16, 2014 following a 23-year stay in Ukraine.
Speaking hours before the Senate passed the legislation on Thursday, Republican Senate hawk John McCain said, "The United States of America needs to send a strong message to Vladimir Putin and any other aggressor that we will not tolerate attacks on our democracy."
Responding to sanctions, Russian President Vladimir Putin said on Thursday Russia would decide on how to retaliate once it had seen the final text of the bill.
The Russian leader said that Moscow was "exercising restraint and patience, but at some moment we'll have to retaliate. It's impossible to endlessly tolerate this boorishness towards our country."
The United States has deployed contingents of troops since Russia's reunification with Crimea. The US deployments have been supplemented by four NATO battle groups of more than 1,000 soldiers.
Around 3,500 US troops arrived in Poland in January, one of the largest deployments of US forces in Europe since the end of the Cold War in 1991.
Western countries have moved to step up their military presence in Eastern Europe to deter what they call the Russian “aggression.”
Moscow is wary of NATO’s military build-up near its borders. In response, Russia has beefed up its southwestern military capacity, deploying nuclear-capable missiles to its Baltic enclave of Kaliningrad bordering Poland and Lithuania.