The August Congressional recess is a great time for Congress to do important work back in the district and abroad. During the first week of August, I had the opportunity to travel with five of my colleagues to frontline states and important NATO allies in Europe.
Our first stop was the United Kingdom — shortly after it had been confirmed that a Russian defector was murdered on British soil. This confirmation served as a reminder that the Russians are unreliable, dangerous and reckless. The United States has been very supportive to the British and expelled 63 Russian diplomats from the U.S. as a result of Russian aggression on British soil.
The United Kingdom expressed appreciation to America’s strong stance on their behalf — and the UK has stood strong with us so many times in the past. We must stand with our friends during difficult moments.
The next stop was a visit to frontline North Atlantic Treaty Organization (NATO) states – Poland, Lithuania and Denmark. Poland has a deep appreciation for forward deployment of American forces with hope that the U.S. will establish a permanent presence in the country. Poland was once occupied by Russia and the previous Soviet Union for decades, becoming a captive nation behind the Iron Curtain during the Cold War. Poland is grateful that the United States defeated the Soviet Union in the Cold War and assisted with the peaceful transition of Poland into a democracy and a NATO ally.
Today, the Polish are interested in acquiring U.S. military equipment, technology and machinery, as well as maintaining a strong presence with America in the Middle East. Additionally, the Polish Foreign Minister and Secretary of Defense reassured my colleagues and I that they are encouraging other European nations to become energy independent, making them less reliant on Russia. Overall, Poland continues to be a country that we can rely on as a cornerstone of NATO’s defense.
In Lithuania, my group met with a group of Parliamentarians who were present when Lithuania declared independence from Russia in 1991. Their witness was a first-hand testament of Russian aggression. On Jan. 13, 1991, Russian tanks and soldiers surrounded the Lithuanian Parliament to prevent Lithuania’s declaration of independence. Today, Lithuania is a democratic nation, but still maintains a keen awareness of the dangers posed by Russia to its freedom.
Our final stop in Europe was Denmark. Denmark has been an excellent ally to the U.S. as it has sent forces to Iraq and Afghanistan alongside our troops, as well as been a customer of U.S. military equipment. As co-chair of the Congressional Friends of Denmark, it was great to connect with our friends in Denmark and learn of their commitment to strengthen our NATO alliance. Denmark is very concerned of Russian activity in the Baltics, but it reaffirmed its ties and faithful friendship to the U.S.
My trip overseas was a solid reminder of how important our allies in Europe are, and how dangerous and volatile Russia is. Russia is not a partner or friend to the U.S. — it is an adversary. It is a country that has engaged in murder and has held Poland and Lithuania hostage in living memory.
America’s alliances in Europe could not be more critical during this time when new threats emerge from Russia on all fronts. NATO will remain a central pillar of western security in the years ahead to counter our adversaries and their aggressions.