President Barack Obama unveiled plans Tuesday for a $1 billion initiative to bolster the U.S. military presence in Europe, pledging solidarity with the nation’s partners in the region amid tension with Russia over the crisis in Ukraine.
Speaking in Warsaw alongside Polish President Bronislaw Komorowski, Obama sought to reassure America’s European allies and called on Congress to help the U.S. fund an effort to increase military ties in the region in the form of more troop support, deployments and equipment. But the cash injection will be focused on short-term goals, with Obama stressing the temporary nature of the initiative. He fell short of promising to permanently bolster the U.S. military presence on the continent.
“Today I’m announcing a new initiative to bolster the support of our NATO allies here in Europe,” Obama said at Warsaw’s Belweder Palace.
If approved, the funding will be used to increase military exercises and training missions and rotations of air and ground forces on the continent, the White House said. Officials said Obama is also seeking to ramp up U.S. Navy participation in NATO deployments in the Black and Baltic seas and to boost the military capacity of non-NATO countries that sit on Russia’s border, including Ukraine, Georgia and Moldova.
He said he was not interested in threatening Moscow but cautioned that it would take a lot of time to rebuild trust after Russia’s intervention in Ukraine, adding that the West would prepare further sanctions against Russia if it felt the Kremlin continued activities that were destabilizing to Ukraine.
Also in Warsaw, U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry described how the crisis in Ukraine was at the heart of the president’s trip.
“We are here today because this remains a new moment of challenge for all of us,” Kerry told reporters. “Events in Ukraine have unfortunately unleashed forces that we had all hoped had been put away ... were behind us. So it requires new vigilance, and it requires clear commitment."
Obama’s announcement came at the start of a three-country swing through Europe, dedicated to addressing the unresolved crisis in Ukraine as well as paying tribute at a D-Day anniversary in France.
Speaking the day before he was scheduled to meet for the first time with Ukraine's newly elected president, Petro Poroshenko, Obama said he wants the U.S. and Ukraine to have good relations with Russia.
But in a warning to Moscow, Obama said the U.S. had plans to protect every member of NATO and has been steadily developing those plans in recent years.
“Our contingency plans are not just pieces of paper on a shelf,” he said, adding that the U.S. must and does have the ability to put those plans into effect if needed.
NATO Secretary-General Anders Fogh Rasmussen hailed Obama’s announcement that the U.S. would bolster its presence on the continent.
“The United States has reacted swiftly after Russia’s illegal military actions in Ukraine,” Rasmussen said as he met with NATO defense ministers in Brussels. “And I appreciate that other allies have followed so that we can announce that all 28 allies are now contributing to reassurance measures.”
Obama’s visit to Warsaw coincides with the 25th anniversary of Poland’s emergence from communism. He plans to meet with Group of 7 leaders in Brussels before heading to France to mark the 70th anniversary of the D-Day invasion, which eventually led to the Allied victory in World War II.
Poroshenko also planned to attend the D-Day events in France on Friday, as did more than a dozen other leaders, including Russian President Vladimir Putin.
A meeting between Putin and German Chancellor Angela Merkel is slated. While no meetings between Obama and Putin were on the schedule, some watchers suggested that had not been ruled out.
Calling his relationship with Putin “businesslike” during his remarks in Poland, Obama said that although “we are interested in good relations with Russia … further provocation will be met with further costs.”
The U.S. and Europe have levied sanctions against Russian officials but have held off on further sanctions after Putin’s vow to respect the results of Ukraine’s recent presidential election.
Later Tuesday, Obama and Komorowski planned to hold discussions on Central European security with leaders from Bulgaria, the Czech Republic, Estonia, Croatia, Hungary, Latvia, Lithuania, Romania and Slovenia.