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Obama casts Russia as threat to peace in Europe

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TALLINN, Estonia (AP) — President Barack Obama on Wednesday harshly condemned Russian aggression in Ukraine as a threat to peace in Europe and pledged that NATO will protect allies who fear they will be Moscow’s next target. Standing on Russia’s doorstep, Obama declared “this is a moment of testing” for the Western alliance to stand up to the Kremlin.

At the same time, the Pentagon announced that 200 U.S. soldiers would participate in an exercise in western Ukraine starting next week. Though largely a symbolic move, distant from the conflict with Russian-backed separatists, it would mark the first presence of American ground troops in Ukraine since the crisis began.

Obama’s tough words set the stage for a pivotal summit of the 28-nation NATO alliance beginning Thursday in Wales. For years, Moscow seethed as NATO expanded its membership and pushed its reach to Russia’s borders, encompassing former republics of the Soviet Union. The backlash from Moscow was a long time coming, but now Vladimir Putin seems determined to assert Russia’s role as a great power.

Obama offered no new prescriptions for solving the central conflict that has put Eastern Europe on edge: Russia’s months-long incursion in Ukraine. Multiple rounds of U.S. and European economic sanctions have done little to shift Putin’s tactics, and Obama remains staunchly opposed to U.S. military intervention. Unlike the Baltics and other Eastern European nations, Ukraine is not a member of NATO, meaning the U.S. and other allies have no treaty obligation to come to its defense.

A new prospect of a cease-fire emerged shortly after Obama arrived in Tallinn. But any potential agreement quickly fizzled when pro-Moscow separatists rejected the move and Russia – which has denied affiliation with the rebels – said it was not in a position to agree to the cease-fire because it was not a party to the conflict.

The West’s inability to stem the crisis has compounded fears in Eastern Europe that Putin could feel emboldened to make moves in other former Soviet territories. White House officials said Obama’s visit to Tallinn was meant to both reassure Baltic leaders that the U.S. would defend their sovereignty if that happened and to warn Putin that he would be risking a confrontation with the American military should he move in that direction.

“We will defend our NATO allies – every ally,” Obama said in a speech to young people as well as political and civil leaders. “In this alliance, there are no old members or new members, no senior partners or junior partners – there are just allies, pure and simple. And we will defend the territorial integrity of every single one. “

In response to the Ukraine crisis, the U.S. will contribute troops and equipment to a rapid response force in Eastern Europe that would be able to deploy within 48 hours.

NATO has already stepped up its air, land and sea rotations in the region. And Obama announced Wednesday that he would send more Air Force units and aircraft to the Baltics, likely to Estonia’s Amari Air Base.

The three Baltic nations – Estonia, Latvia and Lithuania – have long had an affinity for the U.S., which never recognized the Soviet Union’s nearly five-decade occupation of their territories. After the Soviet Union disintegrated, the Baltics turned to the West and joined the European Union and NATO in 2004, much to the chagrin of Russia.

The leaders of Latvia and Lithuania traveled to Estonia Wednesday to meet with Obama. While they welcomed U.S. commitments to the region, they pressed for more, including permanent NATO bases near their borders.

Other alliance members are loath to take that step because of a 1997 agreement with the Kremlin in which NATO said it would not have a permanent troop presence of a significant size on Russia’s border.

Estonian President Toomas Hendrick Ilves said NATO should have the flexibility to sidestep the agreement because security conditions have shifted drastically since its signing.

“I would argue this is an unforeseen and new security environment,” said Ilves, who grew up in the United States. “It does not mean we have to give up the whole act, but certainly when an agreement in certain parts no longer holds, well, then it’s time to make a change.”

Some analysts suggest NATO could try to get around the agreement by calling its new force structure a persistent presence rather than a permanent one.

Despite NATO’s backing, Baltic leaders fear the prospect of a Russian incursion in part because their own countries fit some of the same rationales they see Putin making for his actions in Ukraine. Chief among them is the substantial number of native Russian speakers living in their countries, particularly in Estonia and Latvia.

Moscow has routinely accused the Baltics of discriminating against Russian speakers. The Kremlin has also made a similar argument about Russian speakers in eastern Ukraine, the center of the current conflict.

Seeking to diminish that argument, Obama said the U.S. rejects “the lie that people cannot live and thrive together just because they have different backgrounds or speak a different language.”

Follow Julie Pace at http://twitter.com/jpaceDC

Obama casts Russia as threat to peace in Europe

KDWN

TALLINN, Estonia (AP) — Lashing out at Russia, President Barack Obama on Wednesday cast Moscow’s aggression in Ukraine as a threat to peace in Europe. He vigorously vowed to come to the defense of NATO allies that fear they could be Vladimir Putin’s next target.

“You lost your independence once before,” Obama said following meetings with Baltic leaders in the Estonian capital of Tallinn. “With NATO, you’ll never lose it again.”

Obama, who faces criticism in the U.S. for being too cautious in confronting Russian President Putin, sharply condemned Moscow’s provocations. He declared in blunt terms that Russian forces that have moved into Ukraine in recent weeks are not on a humanitarian or peacekeeping mission, as the Kremlin has insisted.

“They are Russian combat forces with Russian weapons in Russian tanks,” he said during a speech at a packed concert hall.

Obama also took aim at one of Russia’s main rationales for its provocations in Ukraine: the protection of Russian speakers living outside its borders. Like Ukraine, Estonia and other Baltic nations have sizeable Russian-speaking populations, compounding their fears that Moscow could seek to intervene inside their borders.

“We reject the lie that people cannot live and thrive together just because they have different backgrounds or speak a different language,” Obama said.

Despite the president’s tough talk, the U.S. and Europe have been unable to shift Putin’s calculus in the months-long crisis in eastern Ukraine. While multiple rounds of Western sanctions have damaged Russia’s economy, the penalties have not pushed Putin to end what the White House says is unfettered support for pro-Moscow separatists who have stirred upheaval in key cities.

Obama offered no new options for penalizing Russia beyond more sanctions, and reiterated his opposition to getting involved in the conflict militarily.

Shortly after the president arrived in Estonia Wednesday morning, there was a brief flicker of hope for a resolution to the conflict. The Ukrainian president’s office announced that it had reached a cease-fire agreement with Putin. But the statement was ambiguous, and a top rebel figure quickly said no cease-fire was possible without Ukraine withdrawing its forces.

Estonia and other countries in the region that were once under Soviet control have been warily eying Putin’s aggression and fear he could set his sights on their nations next. Unlike Ukraine, the Baltic states of Estonia, Latvia and Lithuania are NATO members, and have been seeking firm commitments that the U.S. and other alliance powers would come to their defense if Russia were to encroach on their territory.

Obama’s three-day trip to Europe is aimed at offering just those assurances. Following a meeting with the leaders of Estonia, Latvia and Lithuania, he declared that the U.S. commitment to security of NATO’s newest members runs deep.

“We will defend our NATO allies – every ally,” he said. “In this alliance, there are no old members or new members, no senior partners or junior partners – there are just allies, pure and simple. And we will defend the territorial integrity of every single one.”

Obama’s comments were welcomed by Estonian President Toomas Hendrick Ilves, who said the U.S. commitment to his country has “helped set an example for other NATO allies.” Still, he continued to push for a more persistent NATO military presence in his country, something some allies have been loath to do because of a 1997 agreement with Russia in which the alliance agreed not to put permanent bases on Russia’s borders.

“I would argue this is an unforeseen and new security environment,” Ilves said.

Obama departed Estonia Wednesday evening for Wales, where a high-stakes NATO summit will get underway Thursday. The alliance is expected to approve plans to station more troops and equipment in Eastern Europe, with the aim of building a rapid response force that could deploy within 48 hours.

He addressed U.S. and Estonian troops at the airport before leaving.

“You’re sending a powerful message that, as NATO allies, we stand together,” Obama said. “We stand as one.”

He earlier had announced that he was sending more Air Force units and aircraft to the Baltics, and called Estonia’s Amari Air Base an ideal location to base those forces.

Obama is the second sitting American president to visit Estonia, following President George W. Bush, who traveled here in 2006. Upon his arrival, Obama wrote in a guest book that it was an honor to visit “a nation that shows what free people can achieve together.”

The Baltics were invaded by the Soviet Union and Nazi Germany during World War II. After the Soviet Union crumbled, the Baltic countries turned to the West and joined the European Union and NATO in 2004, much to the chagrin of Russia.

Follow Julie Pace at http://twitter.com/jpaceDC

Obama casts Russia as threat to peace in Europe

KDWN

TALLINN, Estonia (AP) — Lashing out at Russia, President Barack Obama on Wednesday cast Moscow’s aggression in Ukraine as a threat to peace in Europe. He vigorously vowed to come to the defense of NATO allies that fear they could be Vladimir Putin’s next target.

“You lost your independence once before,” Obama said following meetings with Baltic leaders in the Estonian capital of Tallinn. “With NATO, you’ll never lose it again.”

Obama, who faces criticism in the U.S. for being too cautious in confronting Russian President Putin, sharply condemned Moscow’s provocations. He declared in blunt terms that Russian forces that have moved into Ukraine in recent weeks are not on a humanitarian or peacekeeping mission, as the Kremlin has insisted.

“They are Russian combat forces with Russian weapons in Russian tanks,” he said during a speech at a packed concert hall.

Obama also took aim at one of Russia’s main rationales for its provocations in Ukraine: the protection of Russian speakers living outside its borders. Like Ukraine, Estonia and other Baltic nations have sizeable Russian-speaking populations, compounding their fears that Moscow could seek to intervene inside their borders.

“We reject the lie that people cannot live and thrive together just because they have different backgrounds or speak a different language,” Obama said.

Despite the president’s tough talk, the U.S. and Europe have been unable to shift Putin’s calculus in the months-long crisis in eastern Ukraine. While multiple rounds of Western sanctions have damaged Russia’s economy, the penalties have not pushed Putin to end what the White House says is unfettered support for pro-Moscow separatists who have stirred upheaval in key cities.

Obama offered no new options for penalizing Russia beyond more sanctions, and reiterated his opposition to getting involved in the conflict militarily.

Shortly after the president arrived in Estonia Wednesday morning, there was a brief flicker of hope for a resolution to the conflict. The Ukrainian president’s office announced that it had reached a cease-fire agreement with Putin. But the statement was ambiguous, and a top rebel figure quickly said no cease-fire was possible without Ukraine withdrawing its forces.

Estonia and other countries in the region that were once under Soviet control have been warily eying Putin’s aggression and fear he could set his sights on their nations next. Unlike Ukraine, the Baltic states of Estonia, Latvia and Lithuania are NATO members, and have been seeking firm commitments that the U.S. and other alliance powers would come to their defense if Russia were to encroach on their territory.

Obama’s three-day trip to Europe is aimed at offering just those assurances. Following a meeting with the leaders of Estonia, Latvia and Lithuania, he declared that the U.S. commitment to security of NATO’s newest members runs deep.

“We will defend our NATO allies – every ally,” he said. “In this alliance, there are no old members or new members, no senior partners or junior partners – there are just allies, pure and simple. And we will defend the territorial integrity of every single one.”

Obama’s comments were welcomed by Estonian President Toomas Hendrick Ilves, who said the U.S. commitment to his country has “helped set an example for other NATO allies.” Still, he continued to push for a more persistent NATO military presence in his country, something some allies have been loath to do because of a 1997 agreement with Russia in which the alliance agreed not to put permanent bases on Russia’s borders.

“I would argue this is an unforeseen and new security environment,” Ilves said.

Obama departed Estonia Wednesday evening for Wales, where a high-stakes NATO summit will get underway Thursday. The alliance is expected to approve plans to station more troops and equipment in Eastern Europe, with the aim of building a rapid response force that could deploy within 48 hours.

He addressed U.S. and Estonian troops at the airport before leaving.

“You’re sending a powerful message that, as NATO allies, we stand together,” Obama said. “We stand as one.”

He earlier had announced that he was sending more Air Force units and aircraft to the Baltics, and called Estonia’s Amari Air Base an ideal location to base those forces.

Obama is the second sitting American president to visit Estonia, following President George W. Bush, who traveled here in 2006. Upon his arrival, Obama wrote in a guest book that it was an honor to visit “a nation that shows what free people can achieve together.”

The Baltics were invaded by the Soviet Union and Nazi Germany during World War II. After the Soviet Union crumbled, the Baltic countries turned to the West and joined the European Union and NATO in 2004, much to the chagrin of Russia.

Follow Julie Pace at http://twitter.com/jpaceDC

Obama casts Russia as threat to peace in Europe

KDWN

TALLINN, Estonia (AP) — Lashing out at Russia, President Barack Obama on Wednesday cast Moscow’s aggression in Ukraine as a threat to peace in Europe. He vigorously vowed to come to the defense of NATO allies that fear they could be Vladimir Putin’s next target.

“You lost your independence once before,” Obama said following meetings with Baltic leaders in the Estonian capital of Tallinn. “With NATO, you’ll never lose it again.”

Obama, who faces criticism in the U.S. for being too cautious in confronting Russian President Putin, sharply condemned Moscow’s provocations. He declared in blunt terms that Russian forces that have moved into Ukraine in recent weeks are not on a humanitarian or peacekeeping mission, as the Kremlin has insisted.

“They are Russian combat forces with Russian weapons in Russian tanks,” he said during a speech at a packed concert hall.

Obama also took aim at one of Russia’s main rationales for its provocations in Ukraine: the protection of Russian speakers living outside its borders. Like Ukraine, Estonia and other Baltic nations have sizeable Russian-speaking populations, compounding their fears that Moscow could seek to intervene inside their borders.

“We reject the lie that people cannot live and thrive together just because they have different backgrounds or speak a different language,” Obama said.

Despite the president’s tough talk, the U.S. and Europe have been unable to shift Putin’s calculus in the months-long crisis in eastern Ukraine. While multiple rounds of Western sanctions have damaged Russia’s economy, the penalties have not pushed Putin to end what the White House says is unfettered support for pro-Moscow separatists who have stirred upheaval in key cities.

Obama offered no new options for penalizing Russia beyond more sanctions, and reiterated his opposition to getting involved in the conflict militarily.

Shortly after the president arrived in Estonia Wednesday morning, there was a brief flicker of hope for a resolution to the conflict. The Ukrainian president’s office announced that it had reached a cease-fire agreement with Putin. But the statement was ambiguous, and a top rebel figure quickly said no cease-fire was possible without Ukraine withdrawing its forces.

Estonia and other countries in the region that were once under Soviet control have been warily eying Putin’s aggression and fear he could set his sights on their nations next. Unlike Ukraine, the Baltic states of Estonia, Latvia and Lithuania are NATO members, and have been seeking firm commitments that the U.S. and other alliance powers would come to their defense if Russia were to encroach on their territory.

Obama’s three-day trip to Europe is aimed at offering just those assurances. Following a meeting with the leaders of Estonia, Latvia and Lithuania, he declared that the U.S. commitment to security of NATO’s newest members runs deep.

“We will defend our NATO allies – every ally,” he said. “In this alliance, there are no old members or new members, no senior partners or junior partners – there are just allies, pure and simple. And we will defend the territorial integrity of every single one.”

Obama’s comments were welcomed by Estonian President Toomas Hendrick Ilves, who said the U.S. commitment to his country has “helped set an example for other NATO allies.” Still, he continued to push for a more persistent NATO military presence in his country, something some allies have been loath to do because of a 1997 agreement with Russia in which the alliance agreed not to put permanent bases on Russia’s borders.

“I would argue this is an unforeseen and new security environment,” Ilves said.

Obama was to depart Estonia Wednesday evening for Wales, where a high-stakes NATO summit will get underway Thursday. The alliance is expected to approve plans to station more troops and equipment in Eastern Europe, with the aim of building a rapid response force that could deploy within 48 hours.

Separately, Obama announced that he was sending more Air Force units and aircraft to the Baltics, and called Estonia’s Amari Air Base an ideal location to base those forces.

Obama is the second sitting American president to visit Estonia, following President George W. Bush, who traveled here in 2006. Upon his arrival, Obama wrote in a guest book that it was an honor to visit “a nation that shows what free people can achieve together.”

The Baltics were invaded by the Soviet Union and Nazi Germany during World War II. After the Soviet Union crumbled, the Baltic countries turned to the West and joined the European Union and NATO in 2004, much to the chagrin of Russia.

Follow Julie Pace at http://twitter.com/jpaceDC