WARSAW — As President Obama prepared to meet with Ukraine's president-elect for the first time Wednesday, the U.S. continued to rule out providing weapons to help Ukraine fight against pro-Russian insurgents.
Petro Poroshenko, the chocolate magnate who will be sworn in on Saturday, has said he will ask for U.S. assistance, including training and advice to modernize Ukraine's military and a grant of military equipment.
State Department spokesman Jen Psaki reiterated this week that "we'll continue to review their requests" but that the U.S. policy hasn't changed regarding lethal weapons. When asked by a reporter here Tuesday whether the U.S. will provide such aid, Obama pointed out that during the Crimea crisis the U.S. provided non-lethal assistance.
While Russian activity will be a prime topic of their meeting, he added, he and Poroshenko will also talk about energy supplies for Ukraine and efforts to rebuild its economy. "We're going to spend a lot of time on the economics of Ukraine," Obama said.
Still, Obama used his visit to Poland – a crossroads of the old Cold War – to intensify a new-style standoff with Russia over Ukraine. In meetings with Polish and Eastern European leaders, Obama unveiled a $1 billion plan to bolster security for NATO allies and warned Russia that further aggression in Ukraine will bring more sanctions.
The package — dubbed the "European Re-Assurance Initiative" by aides — is "a powerful demonstration of America's unshakeable commitment to our NATO allies," Obama said after meeting with Polish President Bronislaw Komorowski.
During a day of meetings with various leaders, Obama said European security "is a cornerstone of our own security and it is sacrosanct."
Under the $1 billion plan, parts of which must be approved by Congress, more U.S. troops would be rotated throughout Europe. There would be more land, sea and air military exercises and training missions throughout the continent. Assistance would also be available for non-NATO nations on Russia's border, including Ukraine, Georgia and Moldova.
Russian activity in Ukraine will also be the major topic when Obama attends the G-7 summit Wednesday and Thursday in Brussels.
The president's trip wraps up Friday in Normandy, France, with a commemoration of the 70th anniversary of the D-Day landings. The ceremonies feature a number of world leaders — including Russian President Vladimir Putin, who has clashed with Obama over Ukraine.
Obama and Putin don't have a formal meeting scheduled, but Obama said he is sure he will bump into his Russian counterpart.
He called on Putin to encourage violent separatists in eastern Ukraine to "stand down." The president said that "responsible behavior by the Russians" could help rebuild American-Russian relations that have been "shattered by Russia's annexation of the Crimea region of Ukraine."
"But," Obama added, "I think it is fair to say that rebuilding that trust will take quite some time."
Obama also said that "further Russian provocation will be met with further costs for Russia, including, if necessary, additional sanctions."
Obama stopped in Poland to help commemorate the 25th anniversary of the nation's first free elections as the Soviet Union and the Cold War collapsed — making Poland a perfect place for Obama to talk about national self-determination in the wake of the Ukraine crisis.
World War II began after Germany invaded Poland in 1939, yet the Poles wound up as Soviet vassals.Poland played a major role in breaking up the Soviet Union after the birth of the Solidarity labor movement led by dock worker Lech Walesa.
Since it gained independence in 1989, Poland has been a particularly popular stop for presidents in the post-Cold War era — though Obama does have his share of local critics.
Walesa himself, a former president of Poland, told a Polish television network last week that Obama has not been robust enough in 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.
Dorell reported from McLean, Va.
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