HELSINKI, Finland (AP) _ Vice President Dan Quayle arrived in Finland Wednesday night en route to two days in Estonia, Latvia and Lithuania to underscore U.S. support for the new Baltic democracies.

His is the highest-ranking U.S. mission to the three Baltic states since they achieved independence from the Soviet Union in September.

It also begins a weeklong European trip by Quayle and his wife Marilyn that gives the 45-year-old vice president a break from re-election politics at home and a chance to burnish his foreign policy credentials.

Greeted at the airport by Foreign Minister Paavo Vayrynen as two Finnish and two American flags snapped in the cold night wind, Quayle congratulated Finland on completing 75 years of independence and thanked the Finns for helping the cause of Baltic independence.

The Baltics are in the throes of economic problems caused by the collapse of trade with the former Soviet Union. Russian oil and gas deliveries are insufficient for the winter, inflation is high, and the ruble, still the Baltic currency, is increasingly worthless.

The United States never accepted Soviet annexation of the Baltics in 1940. It renewed full diplomatic relations with them on Sept. 2 following the failed coup by Soviet hard-liners in Moscow.

The Soviet state council formally recognized Baltic independence four days later.

Quayle will preside at ribbon-cuttings for new U.S. embassies in Estonia and Latvia and pay homage to the score of citizens who died during a Soviet crackdown in Latvia and Lithuania last year.

Elaine Chao, director of the U.S. Peace Corps, accompanied Quayle. The Peace Corps is to begin sending volunteers to the Baltics to teach English and help change to a market economy.

Quayle leaves Lithuania on Friday to represent the United States at the opening of the 1992 Olympic Winter Games on Saturday in Albertville, France.

He will meet with German Chancellor Helmut Kohl and British Prime Minister John Major and address the U.N. Human Rights Commission in Geneva before returning home Feb. 12.