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20th Jan 2019

EU and US pledge solidarity in face of Russia

  • Obama's visit to the EU headquarters was his first ever since coming into office in 2009 (Photo: consilium.europa.eu)

Barack Obama and top EU officials have described America and Europe as a fortress of justice against Russia, but indicated that Ukraine is on the other side of the wall.

The US leader in his first visit to the EU capital, on Wednesday (26 March), told press: “We are more secure, we are more prosperous, the world is more just, when Europe and America stand as one.”

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EU Council chief Herman Van Rompuy called Russia’s annexation of Crimea “a disgrace.” He said “in days like these” the EU and US must forge closer ties “to show our own public opinion and the wider world who we are … economies based on rules, societies based on values, and proud of being so.”

European Commission chief Jose Manuel Barroso added: “I’d like to say to the American people that you can count on us as your best friends and allies.”

Obama also warned Russia not to test his obligation to defend former Soviet and former Communist countries who joined Nato.

“At the core of Nato is our Article V commitment to collective defence … there’s no junior Nato members versus senior Nato members, when it comes to collective defence everybody is on the same footing,” he said.

The three politicians pledged to help Ukraine and pro-EU governments in Georgia and Moldova to resist Russia’s machinations.

Obama said EU and US blacklists and Russia’s exclusion from the G8 are “the most significant sanctions against Russia since the end of the Cold War."

He added: “If anyone in the Russian leadership thought the world wouldn’t care about its actions in Ukraine, or that they could drive a wedge between the EU and US, they clearly miscalculated.”

But he drew a line around Crimea.

He said the West will trigger economic sanctions against Russia only “should Russia move forward and engage in further incursion into Ukraine.”

He also drew a line around Nato, saying there are no plans for it to extend its defence pledge to Ukraine or Georgia.

“Neither Ukraine or Georgia are currently on a path to Nato membership. There are no immediate plans to expand Nato,” he noted. “Part of the reason why Ukraine has not applied for Nato membership is because of its complex relationship with Russia and I don’t think that’s going to change any time soon.”

Obama and Van Rompuy struck a different tone on Russia relations despite the show of solidarity.

The US leader said Russia deserves “isolation” on the world stage. But Van Rompuy said the blacklists are “not a punishment - sanctions are an incentive to seek a diplomatic and peaceful solution.”

The difference was echoed in Berlin.

Obama on Monday in The Hague belittled Russia by calling it a “regional power.” But the German spokesman on Tuesday said: "The German government considers Russia to be an important force in Europe and beyond."

Meanwhile, Obama urged EU countries to reduce their security dependence on the US and their energy dependence on Russia.

“If we’ve got collective defence, it means everybody’s got to chip in and I have had some concerns about a diminished level of defence spending among some partners in Nato, not all, but many,” he said.

He added that if the EU and US agree a free trade deal, he will increase exports of shale gas to Europe.

But he noted EU countries have their own shale deposits, which they should develop despite environmental concerns.

“We’ve [the US] been blessed by some incredible resources, but we’re also making choices, and tackling some of those concerns and challenges of energy development, and Europe will have to have those same conversations,” he said.

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