McCain calls for permanent US troops in Baltics

US Republican Senator for Arizona John McCain delivers a message to the media at the Benjamin Franklin library at the US embassy in Mexico City on December 20, 2016 (AFP Photo/PEDRO PARDO) (AFP/File)

Vilnius (AFP) - Republican Senator John McCain on Thursday called for US troops to be permanently stationed in the Baltic states as a deterrent against Russia amid regional concerns over President-elect Donald Trump's pro-Moscow rhetoric.

"I think that permanency is important, that there will always be some American troops here," McCain told reporters in Lithuania, an EU and NATO member bordering Russia's highly militarised Kaliningrad exclave.

"Maintaining that presence is necessary to make sure that our friends here understand the United States is always with them," he added, wrapping up a three-day tour of the Baltics with fellow Republican Senator Lindsey Graham and Democrat Amy Klobuchar.

Mentioning Trump's pick for Secretary of State, Rex Tillerson, McCain expressed concern over his "relationship with (Russian president) Vladimir Putin" but said he will be given an "opportunity to make his case about why he is qualified".

McCain and Graham also called for increased sanctions against Russia over its cyber-meddling in the US election.

"I think the sanctions need to go beyond what it is today, they need to name Putin as an individual and his inner circle because nothing happens in Russia without his knowledge and approval," Graham said.

The US deployed around 150 troops in each of the Baltic states and Poland in 2014 after tensions in the region flared over Russia's annexation of Crimea.

The outgoing administration also pledged to deploy an additional armoured brigade in eastern Europe from early next year on a rotational basis.

Linas Kojala, who heads the Vilnius-based Eastern Europe Studies Centre, said the senators' visit was reassuring after Trump's "worrisome" comments.

"For the Baltics, NATO and the presence of American soldiers in the region are key factors which distinguish us from war-torn Ukraine," he told AFP.