* US vice president visiting Poland and Lithuania
* Biden: NATO security commitment is unwavering
* East Europeans anxious after Russian action in Crimea
* Biden to discuss NATO support, energy security
(Adds comments from briefing with senior administration
By Roberta Rampton
WARSAW, March 18 The United States may run more
ground and naval military exercises to help Baltic states near
Russia beef up their capacity, Vice President Joe Biden said on
Tuesday to reassure NATO allies alarmed by the Crimean crisis.
Moscow's despatch of troops to Ukraine's Crimean peninsula
and its unilateral declaration that the area is now part of
Russia have left NATO member states in eastern Europe worried
that they could be next in line.
In the Polish capital on the first leg of a two-day trip to
the region, Biden condemned Russia's actions in Crimea as a land
grab, and he said NATO's commitment to protect any of its
members from attack was unwavering.
"We are exploring a number of additional steps to increase
the pace and scope of our military cooperation including
rotating U.S. forces to the Baltic region to conduct ground and
naval exercises and training missions," he said after talks with
Estonian President Toomas Hendrik Ilves, who was visiting
A senior administration official told reporters more details
about the proposed new military exercises would be released in
the days ahead. "This would not be a fundamental expansion, or
crossing of a basic line, so to speak," said the official,
speaking on condition of anonymity.
"It's more an opportunity to enhance our capacity to do
training with them actually in the region."
Earlier, at a briefing alongside Polish Prime Minister
Donald Tusk, Biden described Russia's actions as an assault on
Ukraine's sovereignty and a violation of international law.
"Russia has offered a variety of arguments to justify what
is nothing more than a land grab," Biden said. "But the world
has seen through Russia's actions and rejected the logic, the
flawed logic, behind those actions."
Russia said it sent troops to Crimea to protect Russian
residents, who it said were in danger in the unrest that
followed the toppling of Ukraine's pro-Russian president. A
referendum in Crimea on Sunday backed union with Russia, though
the West called that vote a Moscow-orchestrated sham.
Biden said the events in Crimea were a reminder to NATO
members that they need to stand together. He said Washington
would take additional steps to strengthen NATO.
In particular, he said, the United States stood by its
commitment to complete a missile defence system in Poland by
2018. Polish officials view that system as a barometer of
Washington's readiness to underwrite their security.
"Recent events remind us that the bedrock of our alliance
remains collective self-defence as enshrined in Article 5 of the
NATO treaty," Biden said. "We take it deadly serious and our
commitment is absolutely unwavering and unshakeable."
Military exercises in the Baltics would build on measures
already taken. The Pentagon increased the number of U.S.
aircraft in regular NATO air patrols over the Baltics, and it
beefed up a previously planned training exercise with the Polish
The three Baltic states, Estonia, Latvia and Lithuania, are
in NATO and the European Union. Yet they are particularly
vulnerable to any Russian action.
They are small, they depend on Russia for energy and trade,
and they have sizeable Russian-speaking minorities.
From Warsaw, Biden is flying to Lithuania's capital,
Vilnius, where on Wednesday he will meet Lithuanian President
Dalia Grybauskaite and Latvian President Andris Berzins.
Biden also said the United States wants to help eastern
European states find ways to reduce their dependence on imported
Russian fuel, a relationship that, U.S. officials say, the
Kremlin uses as a tool of political influence.
The U.S. government could offer technical and regulatory
assistance to countries like Poland that seek to tap their own
supplies of shale gas, the senior administration official told
reporters, noting Poland's Tusk recently proposed new streamline
rules for drilling.
The United States is poised to become a major exporter of
liquefied natural gas in coming years, creating the potential
for U.S. gas to at least partially displace Russian supplies.
Natural gas importers from around the world have urged the
White House to speed up approvals of more export facilities so
the fuel can be shipped to countries which now rely on Russian
But because of the lead time required to approve export
licenses and build facilities, increased U.S. exports are more
of a long-term consideration, the official said.
(Additional reporting by Karolina Slowikowska and Pawel Bernat;
Writing by Christian Lowe; Editing by Tom Heneghan)