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Obama pledges US support of eastern Europe on visit to Poland


US President Barack Obama assured Poland and its eastern neighbours Tuesday of the United States’ steadfast commitment to their security, at what was the start of a four-day trip meant to demonstrate US resolve after Russia’s intervention in Ukraine.


The White House unveiled plans for a $1 billion initiative to temporarily increase its military presence in Europe, but stopped short of promising to step up its permanent presence, as some of its allies have sought. Instead, it said the United States would review its force presence on the continent.

Speaking in an aircraft hangar at Warsaw airport where he met US airmen taking part in a joint programme with the Polish air force, Obama said US commitments to Poland and the region were key to the US’s own security.

“As friends and allies we stand united together,” said Obama, whose two-day stay in Warsaw will include meetings with Ukrainian President-elect Petro Poroshenko and other central and eastern European leaders.

Obama is under pressure from critics at home, who say he is not showing enough firm leadership on the world stage, and from some NATO allies in eastern Europe who fear they may be the next targets of Russian expansion.

But Western powers must also strike a delicate balance. A big increase in NATO forces on Russia’s borders could result in reciprocal steps from the Kremlin, and spiral into an arms race.

NATO defence ministers were due to meet in Brussels on Tuesday to look at long term measures to strengthen alliance defences in eastern Europe, and consider how to combat the tactics used by Russia in Ukraine.

New vigilance

US Secretary of State John Kerry, also in Warsaw, said Obama’s meetings in Poland were expected to focus on the Ukraine crisis, and how best to respond to the situation.

“We are here today because this remains a new moment of challenge for all of us,” Kerry told reporters. “Events in Ukraine have unfortunately unleashed forces that we had all hoped had been put away ... were behind us. So it requires new vigilance and it requires clear commitment.”

The military assistance proposed by the White House, called the European Reassurance Initiative, is to include greater US participation in training and exercises, deploying US military planners, and more persistent naval deployments in the Black and Baltic seas, which lie on Russia’s doorstep.

The White House said in a statement it would build the capacity of Ukraine and two other Western-leaning countries on Russia’s borders, Georgia and Moldova. Obama would be seeking the support of the US Congress for the plan, it said.

“In addition to this initiative, we are reviewing our force presence in Europe in the light of the new security challenges on the continent,” it said.

“These efforts will not come at the expense of other defense priorities, such as our commitment to the Asia Pacific rebalance.”

Obama’s visit to Poland coincides with the “Freedom Day” anniversary in Poland, which marks the holding of the country’s first partially-free elections 25 years ago.

Later in the week, Obama travels to Brussels for a meeting of Group of Seven leaders and then to France for the commemoration of the 70th anniversary of the D-Day landings in World War II.


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