U.S. President Barack Obama, arriving in Poland today, announced a $1 billion fund to help boost defensive capabilities of European allies shaken by Russia’s annexation of the Crimean peninsula from Ukraine.
Obama will officially call on Congress to approve the fund this afternoon during a joint press conference with Polish President Bronislaw Komorowski in Warsaw. The “European Reassurance Fund” will build on previously announced measures by increasing the capability, readiness, and responsiveness of North Atlantic Treaty Organization forces to address continued threats and deter further destabilizing activities, according to a White House fact sheet.
The initiative, unveiled in Poland, a NATO ally, marks the highest-profile measure to date by Obama in affirming a commitment to Europe following months of tensions surrounding the February ouster of Ukraine’s pro-Russian president Viktor Yanukovych. Russia’s moves since then to annex Crimea and back pro-Russian separatist movements in Ukraine triggered sanctions against members of Putin’s inner circle by the U.S. and Europe.
“Our commitments to Poland’s security, as well as the security of our allies in Central and Eastern Europe, is a cornerstone of our own security,” Obama said as he arrived in Warsaw this morning after flying overnight from Washington. “It is sacrosanct.”
The money will be contained in the Obama administration’s fiscal 2015 war-fighting request -- known as the Overseas Contingency Operations Fund -- that will be released this month, the official said. That’s the pool of money used to bankroll U.S. military efforts in Iraq and Afghanistan.
Starting today in Warsaw, then in Brussels and Paris, Obama will promote economic cooperation, energy security, and solidarity among NATO and Group of Seven nations. Later today, Obama will meet with Polish Prime Minister Donald Tusk.
The fund announced today seeks to increase exercises, training, and rotational presence of U.S. troops across Europe, especially with newer allies shaken by Russia’s aggression over the last several months, according to the fact sheet. The program is designed to bolster the capacity of countries including Georgia, Moldova and Ukraine to better work alongside the U.S. and NATO as well as to provide for their own defense, the White House said.
It will increase the responsiveness of U.S. forces to reinforce NATO by exploring initiatives such as the prepositioning of equipment and improvements to other reception facilities and infrastructure in Europe, the White House said. The U.S. Navy will also boost NATO naval deployments to the Black and Baltic seas.
While Obama is also reviewing the U.S. troop presence in Europe given the continent’s “new security challenges,” this review won’t undermine his administration’s commitment to other defense and foreign-policy priorities, including the rebalancing to Asia, the White House said.
“As friends and allies we stand united together and forever,” Obama said today, standing alongside Komorowski.
Throughout the week Obama will use his speeches and meetings with allies to emphasize Putin’s choice between further economic isolation, if Russia continues to seek more control in Ukraine and other former Soviet areas, or an easing of sanctions if he changes course.
While in Poland, Obama will also meet with Ukraine’s Petro Poroshenko, newly elected to become president of the former Soviet state, and to underscore the benefits for Russia if it leaves Ukraine free to pursue its own path.
Amid the tensions over Ukraine, the Pentagon has already deployed F-16 fighters to Poland and a company of the 173rd Airborne Brigade Combat Team to conduct airborne assault exercises with Polish counterparts. Other reassurance measures have included deployment of Navy warships to the Black Sea and F-15 fighters to Lithuania to beef up Baltic air patrols.
Putin and Obama will cross paths in France on June 6 at ceremonies commemorating the 70th anniversary of the D-Day invasion during World War II.