Obama Says NATO Assures Independence of Baltic NationsAngela Greiling Keane and Phil Mattingly
President Barack Obama, recalling the Soviet occupation of Estonia, Latvia and Lithuania, pledged that the U.S. and NATO won’t let that happen again and would come to their defense in the event of Russian aggression.
“An attack on one is an attack on all,” Obama said in a speech today in the Estonian capital Tallinn, referring to the 28 member countries of the North Atlantic Treaty Organization.
“If, in such a moment, you ever ask again, ‘Who’ll come to help?’ you’ll know the answer: the NATO alliance, including the armed forces of the United States of America, ‘right here, present now,’” Obama said. “We’ll be here for Estonia. We will be here for Latvia. We will be here for Lithuania. You lost your independence once before. With NATO, you’ll never lose it again.”
Obama is using his visit to Estonia, a Baltic nation that borders Russia, to assure allies and send a new warning to Russian President Vladimir Putin over his government’s involvement in the conflict in Ukraine.
As Obama was meeting with Estonian President Toomas Hendrik Ilves, Ukrainian President Petro Poroshenko announced that Ukraine and Russia agreed on the steps needed for a cease-fire in eastern Ukraine, where a violent conflict between Russian-backed separatists and government forces has raged for more than five months.
Putin, who is in Mongolia today, has a seven-point plan for a cease-fire, spokesman Dmitry Peskov said. Russian and Ukrainian authorities plan to meet in Kiev on Sept. 5.
Obama spoke in Estonia twice today about Russia’s involvement in Ukraine.
“We must stand united against Russia’s aggression in Ukraine,” Obama said in his speech after the announcement of a cease-fire agreement.
Even with word of a possible truce, fighting intensified today in eastern Ukraine, with government troops killing 200 rebels in the past 24 hours, military spokesman Andriy Lysenko told reporters in Kiev today.
At a news conference with Ilves earlier today, Obama expressed skepticism about any peace deal.
“We haven’t seen a lot of follow-up on so-called announced cease-fires,” Obama said. “If in fact Russia is prepared to stop financing army training” and “is serious about a political settlement, that is something we are hopeful for. I’ll leave it up to others to interpret Mr. Putin’s psychology on this.”
Obama arrived early this morning in Tallinn for a day-long visit to reassure the Baltic nations of the commitment of the U.S. and NATO to their security should Russia encroach as it has done in Ukraine. Obama heads to the U.K. tonight for a summit in Wales of the leaders of NATO member countries.
One message he plans to deliver is that NATO members need to increase the amount of resources they spend on defense. At the news conference, he lauded Estonia for meeting the alliance’s target of defense spending amounting to 2 percent of gross domestic product.
“NATO has to look at its defense capabilities as a whole and make sure they are updated and properly resourced,” he said.
Only the U.S., Greece, Estonia and the U.K. have met or exceeded the target spending. The 27 NATO nations besides the U.S. spent $288 billion combined, averaging only 1.3 percent of GDP, compared with U.S. spending of $735 billion on defense in 2013, or about 4.4 percent of GDP, according to NATO figures.
NATO has increased air patrols and troop rotations in response to the situation in Ukraine, and Obama said the alliance must bolster its rapid response force.
While all three Baltic nations are NATO members, Ukraine isn’t part of the alliance. Poroshenko, who plans to attend the summit in Cardiff, Wales, is scheduled to visit the White House on Sept. 18. Obama met with Poroshenko one-on-one when he last traveled to Europe in June.
Obama delivered his speech at the Nordea Art Concert Hall after meeting with Ilves and Prime Minister Taavi Roivas and then Latvian President Andris Berzins and Lithuanian President Dalia Grybauskaite.
The postwar vision of a peaceful and growing Europe “is threatened by Russia’s aggression against Ukraine,” he said. “It is a brazen assault on the territorial integrity of Ukraine, a sovereign and independent European nation.”
Ilves called Obama’s visit “of crucial importance” given what is happening around the world. The visit shows the people of Estonia “that it really does matter and this is a very real alliance we have,” Ilves said during brief remarks before the two leaders met privately at Kadriorg Palace.
Putin’s administration heightened the tension yesterday before Obama’s arrival, with Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov saying Ukraine’s allies are stoking the five-month conflict and should back peace talks.
“Unfortunately, the rise of the ‘party of war’ in Ukraine is being actively encouraged by Washington and some European capitals and more and more frequently from NATO headquarters in Brussels,” Lavrov told reporters yesterday in Moscow.
Obama responded to the Russian allegations, saying the NATO alliance isn’t aimed “against” any other nation; we’re an alliance of democracies dedicated to our own collective defense. Countries like Estonia, Latvia and Lithuania are not “post-Soviet territory.”
The European Commission is drafting possible further sanctions on Russia, adding to measures on sectors that have already been targeted, German Chancellor Angela Merkel said yesterday. Without a confirmed cease-fire, that planning will continue, she said today.
Obama said the sanctions already imposed have squeezed Russia’s economy. “Capital is fleeing and foreign investment is plummeting because investors know that today’s Russia is a bad bet,” he said.
The Russian economy is teetering on the brink of a recession. Russia’s Micex Index, which is down 3.6 percent since the start of the year, rose 3.5 percent after word of a cease-fire deal, its biggest gain. The ruble, which has depreciated more than 10 percent against the dollar this year, surged the most against the dollar among more than 170 currencies monitored by Bloomberg globally.
Russia’s currency has depreciated more than 10 percent against the dollar this year, the worst performer after the Argentine peso among 24 developing nations.