U.S. Vice President Joe Biden called Russia’s move into Crimea “nothing more than a land grab” and said the U.S. may boost its participation in NATO military exercises in the nearby Baltic region.
“The world has seen through Russia’s actions and has rejected the flawed logic behind those actions,” Biden said today in Warsaw in the first public remarks by a U.S. official after Russian President Vladimir Putin told lawmakers in Moscow that Crimea is an “inalienable” part of Russia.
The U.S. and its allies are “absolutely confident that we’re up to the challenge” of confronting Russia, Biden said after meeting with Polish Prime Minister Donald Tusk, who said the annexation of Crimea is “not acceptable.”
“The Crimean events and Russia’s unprecedented decisions aren’t just a problem for Ukraine and its neighbors. Russia’s actions in Crimea are a challenge to the whole world,” he said.
Biden left Washington last night, hours after Obama 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.
Poland was Biden’s first stop on a two-day show of U.S. solidarity with North Atlantic Treaty Organization allies amid the heightened tension in the region. He said the U.S. and NATO can help strengthen Poland and the Baltic states militarily as well as help them diversify the region’s energy supply.
“We’re exploring a number of additional steps to increase the pace and scope of our military cooperation, including rotating U.S. forces to the Baltic region to conduct ground and naval exercises as well as training missions,” Biden said at a meeting in Warsaw with Estonian President Toomas Hendrik Ilves.
Europe must increase its support of NATO in the wake of Russia’s actions, Ilves said. “The East-West relationship needs to be put on a new standing,” he said.
In a further show of unity, Obama today 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.
Leaders will discuss “further steps that the G-7 may take to respond to developments and to support Ukraine,” said Caitlin Hayden, a spokeswoman for the National Security Council at the White House. G-7 nations had earlier suspended preparations for the G-8 Summit in Sochi, Russia, in June.
The U.S. vice president also met with Polish President Bronislaw Komorowski. Tomorrow, he meets in Lithuania with Latvian President Andris Berzins and Lithuanian President Dalia Grybauskaite.
Putin said today that Russia doesn’t intend to occupy eastern Ukraine. He blamed Western encroachment for forcing him to annex Crimea, where Russia maintains a naval base and which was Russian territory until 1954.
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.
NATO in recent days has augmented its Baltic air policing mission. U.S. Air Force General Philip Breedlove, the top NATO commander, will meet with defense chiefs of Central and Eastern Europe in Croatia, said a U.S. official traveling with Biden who asked for anonymity to preview the discussions.
Obama said yesterday at the White House that Biden’s trip would show that “as NATO allies, we have a solemn commitment to our collective defense, and we will uphold this commitment.”
Russian forces have stepped up military maneuvers near the eastern border of Ukraine, which isn’t a NATO member. 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.
The Pentagon announced last week it would send 12 F-16 aircraft to Poland as a demonstration of U.S. commitment to defend its allies in the region. The U.S. previously sent six fighter jets to Lithuania.