* Letter dated Feb. 8 uses language similar to Obama's
* Trump welcomes Lithuanian independence from Russian gas
(Updates with more from letter, details on conflict)
By Andrius Sytas
VILNIUS, Feb 10 U.S. President Donald Trump has
expressed support for an undivided Ukraine in a letter to
Lithuania's president, using language similar to his predecessor
Barack Obama that is likely to be welcomed by Kiev and NATO
Baltic nations have been alarmed by Trump's description of
NATO as obsolete and praise for Russian leader Vladimir Putin,
but the Feb. 8 letter posted on the website of the U.S. embassy
in Vilnius stuck to Washington's previous position.
"Your support for the sovereignty and territorial integrity
of Ukraine, as well as your efforts to increase energy
diversification, advance our shared goal to enhance European and
regional security," Trump told Lithuanian President Dalia
Ukraine and the West accuse Russia of invading the country's
industrial east in April 2014 and sponsoring separatist rebels
to prevent Kiev establishing closer ties with Europe and the
United States. Moscow denies military intervention.
The conflict has killed some 10,000 people and last week saw
its biggest flare-up in more than a year, risking a fragile,
Lithuania was annexed by the Soviet Union in the 1940s and
regained independence only with the collapse of communism in the
1990s. Trump's letter was to congratulate the president on her
country's Feb. 16 declaration of independence 99 years ago,
after an earlier period of domination by Tsarist Russia.
It is one of the European Union's most vocal supporters of
the economic sanctions imposed on Russia over the Ukraine
crisis. Trump suggested in a pre-inauguration newspaper
interview sanctions could be softened in return for Russian
In his letter, Trump praised Lithuania for its plans to meet
NATO guidelines by increasing defence spending to 2 percent of
economic output. The president has called on Europe to pay more
towards its security.
"Lithuania is a valued NATO ally that leads by example
through your commitment to our shared defense, as evidenced by
increasing your defense spending to achieve NATO's agreed
benchmark," he wrote.
He also welcomed Lithuania's "efforts to increase energy
diversification", in an apparent reference to relying less on
Lithuania, with U.S. support, opened a liquefied natural gas
terminal in 2014 that dramatically reduced Baltic states'
dependency on gas supplied by Russian monopoly Gazprom, removing
a tool of political influence from Moscow.
(Writing by Robin Emmott; editing by Andrew Roche)