U.S. President Barack Obama said there can be “no business as usual” with Russia until it “fully implements” the agreement aimed at ending the war between Kyiv’s forces and Russia-backed separatists in eastern Ukraine.
Speaking July 9 at a news conference in Warsaw, where he was participating in a NATO summit, Obama cited Russian aggression in Ukraine as one of an unprecedented range of security, humanitarian, and political challenges the alliance faces.
“This is a pivotal moment for our alliance,” Obama said, adding that Washington’s commitment to “the security and defense of Europe” is “unwavering."
"In good times, and in bad, Europe can count on the United States. Always," he added.
Referring to Russia’s 2014 annexation of Ukraine’s Crimean Peninsula and its backing for armed separatists in eastern Ukraine, Obama said that Moscow has violated the sovereignty and territorial integrity of an independent European nation, Ukraine, and engaged in provocative behavior toward NATO allies.
His comments came ahead of next week’s meeting of the NATO-Russia Council, the second such meeting this year. The council was set up in the 1990s to address Russia’s misgivings about the alliance expanding eastward, but was suspended following the Crimea annexation.
“Our 28 nations are united in our view that there can be no business as usual with Russia until it fully implements its Minsk obligations,” Obama said, referring to the peace deal signed in the Belarusian capital in 2015.
Obama spoke a day after NATO leaders at the summit formalized plans for four multinational battalions of up to 1,000 troops each to be stationed on a rotating basis in Poland and the Baltic states of Estonia, Latvia, and Lithuania.
The battalions, to be led by the United States, Canada, Britain, and Germany, are a direct response to Russia’s actions in Ukraine and elsewhere.
“We’re moving forward with the most significant reinforcement of our collective defense [since] any time since the Cold War,” Obama said.
Obama’s staunch defense of NATO’s role in protecting Europe comes against the backdrop of a U.S. presidential campaign in which the presumptive Republican candidate, Donald Trump, has called the alliance “obsolete." Trump has also criticized its members for not paying their fair share.
In his July 9 comments, Obama also warned that NATO member states must meet their commitments to earmark 2 percent of their annual economic output for defense.
Britain, Poland, Greece, and Estonia were on target to meet goal but he said: "That means that the majority of allies are still not hitting that 2 percent mark."
"We had a very candid conversation about this [during the summit]," Obama said.
With reporting by AFP and Reuters