NATO forces turn to east in show of solidarity for Russia's neighbors
BRUSSELS — The United States plans to join with other NATO nations in increasing ground and naval forces in Eastern Europe as part of the alliance's response to Russia's incursion in Ukraine, the White House said on Wednesday.
The specifics were still being finalized, including the size of the force increase. Rather than significantly boosting U.S. military presence in the region, the move seemed aimed instead at showing symbolic support for NATO members near Russia's borders.
President Obama's deputy national security adviser, Ben Rhodes, said NATO was aiming to provide “a continuous presence to reassure our allies.” While he would not detail specific countries where the additional resources would be sent, he noted that the United States was particularly focused on efforts to bolster Poland, Estonia, Lithuania and Latvia.
Rhodes briefed reporters as Obama traveled to Rome from Brussels, where he met with NATO Secretary General Anders Fogh Rasmussen. In a speech from the heart of Europe, Obama declared the crisis in Ukraine a global “moment of testing.”
Obama appealed to Europeans to retrench behind the war-won ideals of freedom and human dignity, declaring that people voicing those values will ultimately triumph in Ukraine..
The president urged the 28-nation NATO alliance to make good on its commitment to its collective security.
“We must never forget that we are heirs to a struggle for freedom,” Obama said, adding that the Ukraine crisis has neither easy answers nor a military solution. “But at this moment, we must meet the challenge to our ideals, to our very international order with strength and conviction.”
Calm in Europe has been upended by Russian President Vladimir Putin's foray into the Ukrainian region of Crimea. Moscow annexed that peninsula this month, stoking fears among Russia's other neighbors as Europe was plunged back into an East-West mentality that many had thought was left behind.
The United States already has taken some steps to bolster cooperation with NATO, including stepping up joint aviation training with Polish forces. The Pentagon has increased American participation in NATO's air policing mission in its Baltic countries.
Obama came to Europe intent on shoring up commitments from allies, but also to make a larger point about European security.
In a nod to the U.S. perception that America has borne too much of the burden for NATO members' security, Obama said he wanted to see every NATO partner “chip in” for mutual defense.
“I have had some concerns about a diminished level of defense spending by some of our partners in NATO,” Obama said. “The situation in Ukraine reminds us that our freedom isn't free.”