Obama promises $1bn security spend for eastern Nato allies

Warns Russia to allow Ukrainians chose ‘their own destiny’

US president Barack Obama and Polish president Bronislaw Komorowski at a press conference in the Belweder Palace in Warsaw yesterday. Photograph: Stephen Crowley/The New York Times

US president Barack Obama and Polish president Bronislaw Komorowski at a press conference in the Belweder Palace in Warsaw yesterday. Photograph: Stephen Crowley/The New York Times

 

US president Barack Obama has promised a greater US military presence in Poland and neighbouring Nato allies over concerns at their exposure to Russia in the Ukraine crisis.

Arriving in Warsaw yesterday, Mr Obama said he would request additional funding for military exercises and training as well as a greater troop presence in the region as part of a “European reassurance initiative”.

“I will ask Congress to approve $1 billion [€734M]in support of this effort, which will be a strong manifestation of our sustained commitment to the security of our Nato allies,” said Mr Obama after talks with his Polish counterpart Bronislaw Komorowski.

The US leader is in Warsaw for celebrations marking the 25th anniversary of post-war Poland’s first partially free elections, ending four decades of communist rule and the transition to the modern, democratic Polish republic.

New urgency

Polish officials gave a guarded welcome to what, they pointed out, was still just an announcement of a commitment yet to be approved by US lawmakers.

Their lobbying of Washington to step up its presence and security investment in the region has taken on a new urgency since Russia’s annexation of Crimea.

Mr Obama said that while the US had always been interested in “good relations with Russia [and] not with threatening Russia”, Moscow was trying to stop Ukrainians from “choosing their own destiny”.

“We recognise that the principles of territorial integrity and sovereignty are important and that Russia has violated them,” he said.

“There are many countries whose governments we don’t agree with but, under my administration, we don’t go around trying to overthrow those governments or fund certain elements to undermine those governments – that’s not what we do.”

The US president said the security of its eastern-most Nato allies was “a cornerstone of our own security and it is sacrosanct”, while a White House communiqué on the new “reassurance” initiative noted the US already has 67,000 soldiers in Europe.

Polish wish-list

“At the moment we have Nato bases as legacies of the Cold War in places where they were useful during the confrontation with the Soviet Union, ” said Radoslaw Sikorski, the Polish foreign minister.

“This doesn’t take into account the events of the last quarter of a century and this should now be addressed.”

Senior US security analysts say Polish concerns are justified, arguing that Poland could be left exposed at home if obliged to assist its Baltic neighbours against Russia.

“We need to move from symbolism of the (Nato) alliance to the nuts and bolts of the alliance,” said George Friedman, founder of global intelligence corporation Stratfor, ahead of yesterday’s visit.

“When the Poles meet the Americans, they should have a wish-list and the list should be long.”

Mr Obama is hosting talks with Ukraine’s new president Petro Poroshenko this morning. He will then go to a G7 meeting in Brussels and D-Day celebrations in Normandy.