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Blinken wraps up Baltic assurance tour as Ukraine war rages

TALLINN, Estonia (AP) — U.S. Secretary of State Antony Blinken wrapped up the last leg Tuesday of a short tour of the three Baltic states aimed at reassuring the former Soviet republics that NATO will guarantee their security as Russia’s war with Ukraine rolls on unabated.

Blinken met with senior Estonian officials in Tallinn, a day after hearing appeals from both Lithuania and Latvia for more support and greater U.S. and NATO troop presence to deter a feared Russian intervention.

“We will defend every inch of NATO territory with the full force of our collective power,” Blinken said, noting that the U,S. and other allies were already stepping up their presence in the alliance’s eastern flank members like the Baltics.

Estonian Prime Minister Kaja Kallas urged Blinken to support creating a “permanent and meaningful” NATO deployment in the Baltics. She called Russia “a very aggressive neighbor that we have suffered under” and one that needed to be punished for its actions in Ukraine.

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She said sanctions should be expanded to cryptocurrency, oil, and sea ports “until Putin’s war machine has been paralyzed” and Russia is completely isolated from the free world.

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As the war in Ukraine rages, leaders in all three Baltic states have expressed grave concerns about Russian President Vladimir Putin’s intentions for former Soviet bloc countries that are now allied or otherwise linked to the West.

“We have no illusions about Putin’s Russia anymore,” Latvian Foreign Minister Edgars Rinkevics said Monday in Riga. “We don’t really see any good reason to assume that Russia might change its policy.”

Rinkevics said that the Russian invasion of Ukraine had shown the Baltic countries in particular the need to bolster air and coastal defenses and that Latvia would like its security cooperation with NATO to be “more efficient.”

Lithuanian President Gitanes Nauseda told Blinken in Vilnius that a policy of deterrence was no longer enough and that “forward defense” was now needed. He predicted that “Putin will not stop in Ukraine if he will not be stopped.”

Memories of Soviet rule are still fresh in the Baltics and since the Russian invasion of Ukraine last month, NATO has moved quickly to boost its troop presence in its eastern flank allies while the U.S. has pledged additional support.

Support for Ukraine’s resistance to the Russian invasion was palpable in all three Baltics as Ukrainian flags and other signs of solidarity were evident in many businesses and on houses, public buildings and buses.

From Tallinn, Blinken travels to Paris later Tuesday for a meeting with French President Emmanuel Macron to discuss his recent conversations with Putin about Ukraine and efforts to convince the Russian leader to end the conflict.

Federal regulations for malathion have been under review in response to longstanding complaints that the pesticide kills many protected plants and animals. The U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service determined last April that malathion could threaten the continued existence of 78 imperiled species and cause lesser harm to many more.

Wildlife officials reversed their position on the 78 species in a Feb. 28 biological opinion following talks between malathion manufacturers, officials from the wildlife service and the Environmental Protection Agency, according to documents reviewed by The Associated Press in advance of their public release.

Wildlife service officials now say malathion could cause limited harm to hundreds of species, but is unlikely to jeopardize any of them with extinction, as long as labels that dictate its use are changed.

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“The Service worked with EPA, the malathion registrants and USDA to develop general and species-specific conservation measures that significantly reduce many of the effects of malathion use on listed species and their critical habitats,” said Gary Frazer, the wildlife service’s assistant director for ecological services.

The manufacturers agreed to use labels that provide extensive guidelines on when and where malathion should be used to avoid killing wildlife. For example, the labels would say not to spray malathion to kill mosquitoes during the middle of the day, when bees and some other insects are more active and thus more likely to be inadvertently killed.

The species that were found in jeopardy last year included birds such as the Mississippi sandhill crane and various fish, insects, snails and other animals and plants.

Every year almost a million pounds of malathion are used on crops in California, Florida, Washington, Oregon, Ohio and other states. Close to 2 million pounds is used every year in home gardens, for mosquito control and other non-crop uses, according to data from a 2018 government survey. The amount used on farmland has fallen by about two-thirds since its 1998 peak, according to the data.

Malathion is considered highly toxic to insects, fish and crustaceans. International health officials have said the chemical is probably carcinogenic to humans.

The review of malathion’s impacts on wildlife came under a legal agreement with the Center for Biological Diversity. The environmental group first sued the EPA two decades ago, for failing to consult with other federal agencies about the risks of pesticides on wildlife and plants, and filed more lawsuits leading up to its 2013 settlement with the Fish and Wildlife Service.

A separate review of malathion’s affects on species is pending from the National Marine Fisheries Service. The agency said in a Feb. 25 draft analysis that malathion could jeopardize 37 species. The draft did not include consideration of the label changes planned by manufacturers, which fisheries service officials said they would incorporate into their final opinion.

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