U.S. President Barack Obama began a multinational trip on Tuesday in Europe, making his second stop on Wednesday in Ukraine. His trip will focus largely upon the Ukrainian crisis as well as bolstering confidence of NATO and non-NATO allies in Europe over the Cold-War style tensions between Western countries and Russia.
During the Ukrainian visit, Obama will meet, for the first time, Petro Poroshenko, Ukraine’s recent president-elect, who will be inaugurated on Saturday. Poroshenko has asked for assistance from the U.S., which will most likely be discussed during the meeting between the presidents. Unlike the non-lethal assistance the U.S. gave during the crisis in Crimea, in which Russia annexed the small peninsula in southern Ukraine, Poroshenko will be asking for a grant of military equipment, among other military-related requests.
Obama is holding firm on the denial of providing lethal weaponry, military training or military advice to Ukraine. Instead, Obama says, “We’re going to spend a lot of time on the economics of Ukraine.” Ukraine is currently teetering on the brink of bankruptcy, and is being kept afloat largely by loans from the International Monetary Fund, the World Bank, the United States and other Western countries.
In Poland, the first stop on Obama’s trip, the president introduced the “European Re-Assurance Initiative,” a $1 billion package to bolster NATO security in central and eastern Europe. This plan will include increasing military training exercises in the area and pre-planning military equipment locations. It will also include an increased presence of the U.S. Army, Air Force and Navy in eastern Europe.
During his trip to Europe, after leaving Ukraine, Obama will be paying a visit to Normandy, France, for the 70th anniversary of D-Day. This commemoration of the World War 2 battlefield will also be attended by other world leaders, including Russian President Vladimir Putin. Obama and Putin’s relationship has become very strained in recent months due to the crisis in Ukraine. Obama has said that relations between the two superpowers were “shattered by Russia’s annexation of the Crimea region of Ukraine.”
Washington has placed the blame on Putin for encouraging the violent pro-Russian separatist groups, including the Donetsk People’s Republic, to continue insurgency operations. The Kremlin has denied encouraging, inciting or arming the rebels and has called on Kiev to cease their increasingly volatile military strikes in eastern Ukraine.
Obama’s visit to Ukraine comes just days after a large strike by Ukrainian troops against eastern rebels, with both sides sustaining casualties. The fighting took place in the city of Sloviansk, which is currently held by rebels who occupy strategic buildings, much like other important cities in eastern Ukraine, such as Donetsk. Kiev’s military responses in eastern Ukraine have been escalating to civil war proportions after the presidential referendum was introduced in May. The pro-Russian rebels declared themselves independent of Ukrainian government and seek to join with Russia.
On his Europe trip, Obama’s stop in Ukraine will largely center around the continued insistence of withholding arms from Ukraine. His trip will also include this year’s G7 summit in Brussels, Belgium. Originally dubbed the G8 summit, Obama, with international effort, had Russia’s participation suspended, making it now the G7.
By Jesse Eells-Adams