Two Baltic leaders echoed calls from Poland and Estonia for a more aggressive U.S. stance toward Russia, as Vice President Joe Biden wrapped up a two-day trip to countries on the front line of Ukrainian turmoil.
Biden met today in Lithuania with Latvian President Andris Berzins and Lithuanian President Dalia Grybauskaite during a visit aimed at assuring North Atlantic Treaty Organization allies that the U.S. will support them against any attempt by Russia to encroach on their territory. Biden returns to Washington later today.
“I see it as a threat not only to Ukraine but also to the entire international community” that can ’’undermine postwar architecture,’’ Grybauskaite told reporters today in Vilnius, the Lithuanian capital.
She said she told Biden Russian actions in Crimea are a “direct threat” to the region.
“There are those who say that this action shows the old rules still apply,” Biden said. “But Russia cannot escape the fact that the world is changing and rejecting outright their behavior.”
Biden said that there will be economic consequences for nations that engage in “naked aggression.”
Biden said U.S. President Barack Obama will use the NATO summit to reach concrete commitments. While each of the leaders Biden met with during his trip embraced the U.S. pledge, all urged more action by the U.S., NATO and Europe.
Latvia’s Berzins told reporters that “Ukraine must be helped immediately politically and economically,” the latter in terms of energy security and prices. He said that the construction of a pipeline linking gas from Poland to the Baltics should be accelerated.
“It’s more important today than ever that friends stand with one another and be unequivocal about it,” Biden said after a meeting yesterday with Polish Prime Minister Donald Tusk in Warsaw. “That’s why I’m here.”
Estonian President Toomas Hendrik Ilves, who Biden also met with in Warsaw, said Russia’s moves to absorb Ukraine’s Crimean peninsula “are forcing us to reassess” NATO’s post-Cold War mentality of “a Europe that no longer has any threats.”
Such views no longer apply, Ilves said. “The East-West relationship needs to be put on a new standing. We and NATO must draw our conclusions from Russia’s behavior.”
Tusk called for tighter military cooperation and said Russia’s aggression goes beyond the implications for Ukraine and represents “a challenge for the whole free world.”
Polish President Bronislaw Komorowski said Russia’s higher defense spending in recent years falls into the category of “lesson learned.” That prompted Biden to push back: “We have a budget larger than the next 10 nations in the world combined, so don’t worry about where we are: Number One,” he said.
Poland and Estonia will call for expanded sanctions at the European Union leaders’ meeting this week, according to an U.S. administration official, who briefed reporters on condition of anonymity to discuss private talks.
Biden, 71, said the U.S. is looking at ways to “increase the pace and scope of our military cooperation” including rotating U.S. forces to the Baltic region for ground and naval exercises and training missions. The U.S. also is bolstering NATO air patrols from bases in Poland and Lithuania.
The crisis has raised concern in Europe, particularly among western-leaning nations that once were Soviet satellites. Russian President Vladimir Putin accused Lithuania and Poland on March 4 of training the “extremists” who ousted Kremlin-backed Ukrainian President Viktor Yanukovych, who fled after three months of anti-government protests.
Biden repeatedly said the U.S. is committed to NATO’s Article 5, which says an attack on an individual member of the alliance is considered an attack on all member nations.
The vice president didn’t make any commitments about using U.S. energy policy to help lessen dependence on Russia, while encouraging European nations including Poland to aid Ukraine.
In the coming weeks, the U.S. will discuss with European partners ways to diversify their energy sources to reduce dependence on Russia. Biden said he and Tusk talked about steps Poland is taking to reverse natural gas flows in some pipelines and help neighboring Ukraine access additional gas. Biden and Tusk also discussed trans-Atlantic trade negotiations.
Biden called Russia’s move into Crimea “nothing more than a land grab.”
“The world has seen through Russia’s actions and has rejected the flawed logic behind those actions,” he said in the first public remarks by a U.S. official after Putin told lawmakers in Moscow that Crimea is an “inalienable” part of Russia.
Obama has joined with EU leaders to slap sanctions on Russian officials and Putin allies. Putin responded by recognizing Crimea as a sovereign state, following a March 16 referendum on the Black Sea peninsula on joining Russia. The U.S. and EU regard the vote as illegitimate.
In a further show of unity, Obama yesterday invited the heads of state from Canada, France, Germany, Italy, Japan, and the U.K., as well as the European Union, to a meeting of G-7 nations on March 24 on the sidelines of a Nuclear Security Summit in The Hague planned March 24-25. G-7 nations had earlier suspended preparations for the G-8 Summit in Sochi, Russia, in June.