Obama and Putin: Paths to cross later this week
President Obama visits Europe this week where the topic of most of the conversations with allies will be Vladimir Putin. The president will visit with the new president of Ukraine, stop by Poalnd, attend the G-7 Summit, and end the week in Normandy where he will participate in events surrounding the 70th anniversary of D-Day. Also expected at the ceremonies is Vladimir Putin, although the president is not expected to exchange any pleasantries with him.
Obama will arrive in Warsaw on Tuesday, where he'll look to reassure Polish leaders rattled by Russia's incursion into neighboring Ukraine.
While there, Obama will meet with American airmen dispatched to a Polish air force base as a sign of support following the Russian annexation of Crimea. The president and Polish leaders will also meet with other Eastern European leaders, including representatives from Bulgaria, Croatia, the Czech Republic, Estonia, Hungary, Latvia, Lithuania, Romania, and Slovakia.
"This trip to Europe comes at a very important time in the trans-Atlantic relationship, as we seek to reaffirm our commitments to our European allies, deepen our cooperation with our Europeans allies and pursue an agenda that can shore up both the security and economic foundations of the trans-Atlantic partnership," White House deputy national security adviser Ben Rhodes said.ADVERTISEMENT
While in Poland, Obama plans to give an address marking the 25th anniversary of the country's first post-communist elections.
On Wednesday, Obama will meet for the first time with newly elected Ukranian president Petro Poroshenko. The White House hopes the billionaire chocolate magnate can help calm tensions in Ukraine, and negotiate greater autonomy for regions where pro-Russian separatists have seized government buildings and roads.
"We have a broad agenda to work with them to stabilize the economy, to provide significant assistance as they seek to re-establish stability and growth within Ukraine, and also of course to support their efforts to reduce tensions," Rhodes said.
Later in the week, Obama will travel to Brussels for a summit of the G-7. That meeting was originally slated for Sochi, but Russia was expelled from the group of the world's leading economies as punishment for its actions in Ukraine.
In Brussels, leaders are expected to discuss security and energy issues. Spooked by Russia's actions, European nations have been eager to increase their own natural gas development to decrease reliance on Moscow.
EU Ambassador João Vale de Almeida said that the G-7 are "solidly united" on the issues they will tackle during the meetings, which include Ukraine and Russia.
"We want to show a very strong unity on our side," he said.
The U.S. and EU have stayed the course on their handling of Russia's takeover of Crimea, and their tactics have included leveling sanctions.
The trip, as Reuters points out, will give the president the opportunity to explain his Russian policy - again. His pronouncements have not reassured former Soviet satetllites like Poland and the Czech Republic:
The president's trip follows a speech at the U.S. Military Academy last week in which he argued that American leadership in the world should be exercised mainly by diplomacy, multilateral action and economic pressure, as in Ukraine, rather than through military might.
"Our ability to shape world opinion helped isolate Russia right away. Because of American leadership, the world immediately condemned Russian actions," Obama said.
But when Obama meets in Warsaw with leaders from 10 nations from Central and Eastern Europe, analysts say he will be urged to articulate a clearer plan to help prevent more instability in the region.
"There's a concern that we will disappear, we will fade, when the next crisis hits us," said Heather Conley of the Center for Strategic and International Studies in Washington.
Obama has long faced calls from Eastern European statesmen to be more forceful, including from Lech Walesa, who led Poland's Solidarity trade union movement that played a critical role in the overthrow of communism in the 1980s.
Walesa, a former Polish president, said in an interview on Poland's TVN24 television network last week that he was disappointed in what he considered Obama's insufficiently robust approach to the Ukraine crisis.
"The superpower has not been up to the job, and therefore the world is at a dangerous point and maybe it really is the case that lots of bad things are happening in the world because there is no leadership," Walesa said.
Walesa is only articulating what most leaders in Europe are saying privately; American leadership is missing in the Ukraine crisis. The same could be said about our Asian allies who are beginning to fear China and see an America unwilling to step forward.
Obama may score points with his liberal supporters for acting timidly in the world, but other governments have taken note and are acting accordinly. Is it an accident that Japan is looking to expand its military for the first time in 65 years? The American security umbrella that so many of our allies depended on for decades is being folded up and our friends are beginning to realize they're pretty much on their own.