• Obama spoke next to US jets posted in Poland as a reaction to the Ukraine crisis (Photo: White House)

US unveils $1bn European security plan

03.06.14 @ 15:39

  1. By Andrew Rettman
  2. Andrew email

BRUSSELS - The US has unveiled plans to invest $1 billion in European security in light of the Russia-Ukraine conflict.

The so-called European Reassurance Initiative, if passed by Congress, is to see more US troops posted to eastern Europe on a temporary basis, greater US involvement in Nato drills in the region, and extra US warships in the Baltic Sea and the Black Sea.

It will also help build military capacity in three pro-Western former Soviet states: Georgia, Moldova, and Ukraine.

US President Barack Obama unveiled the plan while in Warsaw on Tuesday (3 June) on the first leg of a European tour.

Speaking at an airport which houses US jets sent to Poland to patrol Nato's border with Russia, he said: "I'm starting the visit here because our commitment to Poland's security, as well as the security of our allies in central and eastern Europe, is a cornerstone of our own security and it is sacrosanct."

"Given the situation in Ukraine right now, we have [already] increased our American presence".

He accused Russian leader Vladimir Putin of trying to stop Ukrainian people from "choosing their own destiny" by integrating with the EU.

"We have always been interested in good relations with Russia, not with threatening Russia ... but we recognise that the principles of territorial integrity and sovereignty are important and that Russia has violated them," he said.

"There are times where we have governments in the Western hemisphere that are not particularly friendly to us and we may make very clear that we don’t like their policies, but under my administration we don’t go around and try to overthrow those governments, or to finance or supply armed efforts to undermine those governments. That’s not what we do."

Obama noted he is likely to bump into Putin at a D-Day commemoration in France later this week.

He is not scheduled to hold talks with the Russian leader, unlike the French President and the British PM.

But the US President said he "expects and hopes" that Francois Hollande and David Cameron will put pressure on Putin to pull back troops from the Ukrainian border, call off pro-Russia fighters in east Ukraine, and talk to Ukraine's new authorities.

Speaking alongside Obama, Polish President Bronislaw Komorowski said Russia has no right to complain if the US builds up its presence in Poland.

"We deny the right of anyone outside Nato to decide whether we can decide internally to do something or not to do it," he noted. "It's difficult not to notice that something has changed along Nato's eastern border," he added, referring to Russia's actions in Ukraine and its recent hike in military spending.

Obama was in Warsaw to celebrate Freedom Day – the 25th anniversary of Poland's first post-Communist elections in 1989.

Both he and Komorowski made the point that Russia's drift toward authoritarianism at home stands in contrast to trends in the rest of Europe.

Obama said: "Governments that pursue repressive policies, over time, those governments will fail because they don't represent the aspirations of the people."

Komorowski said the "examples" of democratisation in Ukraine and Poland ought to "have a huge impact" on Russian society: "Public opinion in Russia should stand on the side of support for the modernisation of Russia, and not the creation of any zones of influence or dreams of empire."

Poland wants more

Obama's $1 billion plan, to start in 2015, is likely to disappoint Poland, which would prefer to see the installation of permanent new Nato infrastructure in the region.

A White House communique on the European Reassurance Initiative noted the US already has 67,000 soldiers in Europe.

It said: "In addition to this initiative, we are reviewing our [permanent] force presence in Europe in light of the new security challenges on the continent." But it warned that: "These efforts will not come at the expense of other defense priorities, such as our commitment to the Asia Pacific rebalance."

Meanwhile, Obama said his main priority in Ukraine is not military, but financial assistance. "We're going to spend a lot of time on the economics of Ukraine," he noted, referring to his planned meeting with Ukraine's new pro-Western leader, Petro Poroshenko, in Poland later in the day.

For his part, Nato chief Anders Fogh Rasmussen sent out a similar message.

He said in Brussels on Tuesday at the start of a Nato defence chiefs meeting: "We call on Russia to return Crimea to Ukraine."

He also urged Putin to remove the "tens of thousands" of Russian troops still massed on Ukraine's border and to end his support for "armed thugs" in east Ukraine.

He added, however: "We are not discussing any military options. We do believe the right way forward is a political and diplomatic solution to the crisis."

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