Obama Outlines Expanded US Troop Plan for the Baltics
President Obama wants U.S. troops to continuously rotate through Latvia, Estonia and Lithuania as a hedge against continued Russian aggression. By Marina Koren
President Obama on Wednesday reaffirmed his support for Ukraine in its standoff with Russia, following mixed reports of a cease-fire between both sides.
Speaking in Estonia ahead of a NATO summit, the president outlined future U.S. actions in Eastern Europe, specifically in the Baltic region.
"Here in the Baltics, it would mean positioning more American equipment so it's ready, if needed," Obama said. "It would mean more training and exercises between our militaries. And it would mean more U.S. forces, including American boots on the ground, continuously rotating through Estonia and Latvia and Lithuania."
Obama said NATO member states will provide support to Estonia in the face of increased Russian aggression. In April, Russia "signaled concern" about Estonia's large ethnic Russian minority, prompting wary Estonia leaders to call for military assistance from NATO.
"You lost your independence once before," he said, alluding to German and Soviet occupations of the Baltic region during World War II and the Cold War. "With NATO, you will never lose it again."
Obama did not mention reports of a possible cease-fire between Russia and Ukraine. The office of Ukrainian President Petro Poroshenko said Wednesday morning that Poroshenko and Russian President Vladimir Putin had agreed on temporary peace terms in southeastern Ukraine, but then retracted the statement.
Obama called Russia's actions over the last several months "a brazen assault on the territorial integrity of Ukraine, a sovereign and independent European nation."
"It was not the government of Kiev that destabilized eastern Ukraine," he said. "It's been the pro-Russian separatists who are encouraged by Russia, financed by Russia, trained by Russia, supplied by Russia, and armed by Russia," Obama said.
Ukrainian leaders said last week that the country is seeking to gain NATO membership.
The president compared Russia's current actions to the country's imperialist past. "As a result of state-run propaganda, many Russians have been convinced that the actions taken by their government is strengthening Russia, but reaching back to the days of the czars, trying to reclaim lands lost in the 19th century, is surely not the way to secure Russia's greatness in the 21st century."
The defense against Russian intervention "of Tallinn and Riga and Vilnius is just as important as the defense of Berlin and Paris and London," he said.
Last week, more than 1,000 Russian soldiers crossed over the border into Ukraine to join pro-Russia separatists' fight against the Ukrainian military, NATO said. Separatists and the Ukrainian military have been locked in battle since April, after Russia annexed Crimea, a Ukrainian peninsula, in March. Putin on Wednesday told the president of the European Commission that he could "take Kiev in two weeks" if he wanted.
Matt Berman contributed to this article.