WARSAW — As he began a four-day trip to Europe, President Obama announced new measures intended to bolster security in Central and Eastern Europe in response to Russia’s intervention in the crisis in Ukraine, including its annexation of Crimea.
Obama tried to make a point of demonstrating solidarity with America’s friends in the region as soon as he landed in Poland, the first stop on his itinerary. Striding across the tarmac from Air Force One, he visited a hangar where four US F-16 jets were parked and addressed about 50 US and Polish airmen and soldiers with a message of resolve.
“I’m starting the visit here because our commitment to Poland’s security as well as the security of our allies in Central and Eastern Europe is a cornerstone of our own security and it is sacrosanct,” Obama told the troops, with President Bronislaw Komorowski of Poland at his side. “As friends and allies, we stand united together and forever.”
Later he announced that he would ask Congress for $1 billion for a “European reassurance initiative” that would increase the US troop presence in Eastern Europe with additional exercises and training and would send US Navy ships more often to the Baltic and Black seas.
The plan would position more equipment in Europe for quicker military responses and dispatch US experts to augment the allies’ capabilities. It would also provide aid to Ukraine and two other former Soviet republics, Georgia and Moldova.
It was not clear whether Obama’s announcement would satisfy leaders in the region, who have so far been unimpressed by the relatively small forces the United States has sent in recent months.
Obama has dispatched about 600 paratroopers to Poland and other allies in the region and rotated more aircraft and support personnel through the area.
Anxious about the threat from Moscow, Polish leaders have been pressing for a more robust deployment and even creation of a permanent base on their territory. NATO reached an agreement with Russia after the Cold War ended, promising to refrain from deploying substantial forces in Eastern Europe, but Polish officials have argued that Russia effectively abrogated that agreement by annexing Crimea.
“For the first time since the Second World War, one European country has taken a province by force from another European country,” Radoslaw Sikorski, the Polish foreign minister, said in a telephone interview before Obama’s arrival. “America, we hope, has ways of reassuring us that we haven’t even thought about. There are major bases in Britain, in Spain, in Portugal, in Greece, in Italy. Why not here?”
Joined by Secretary of State John Kerry, Obama met Tuesday with Komorowski and Prime Minister Donald Tusk, reaffirming repeatedly what he called America’s “rock solid commitment” to Polish security. He also met with the leaders of Bulgaria, Croatia, the Czech Republic, Estonia, Hungary, Latvia, Lithuania, Romania, and Slovakia, all of whom traveled here to hear a similar message.
On Wednesday, Obama is scheduled to meet for the first time with Petro O. Poroshenko, the president-elect of Ukraine, whose inauguration is set for Saturday.
Obama hopes to reinforce US support for the new government in Kiev as it tries to stabilize a rocky economy and quell a violent pro-Russia insurgency in the eastern part of the country, where there was fresh fighting Tuesday.
Later Wednesday, Obama plans to address a rally marking the 25th anniversary of elections in Poland that led to the end of Communist rule.
The fresh confrontation with Russia, coming at a time when this part of Europe is commemorating the end of the Cold War and Soviet domination, lent symbolic potency to the event.
Then Obama plans to fly to Brussels to meet with leaders of Britain, France, Germany, Italy, Canada, and Japan in a Group of 7 format.
That meeting was originally supposed to be a Group of 8 summit in Sochi, Russia, hosted by President Vladimir Putin, but Russia was suspended from the group following its annexation of Crimea.
From Brussels, Obama is to travel to France for meetings in Paris and a ceremony in Normandy marking the 70th anniversary of the D-day landings.
Putin plans to attend the Normandy ceremony as well, setting up his first encounter with Obama since the Ukraine crisis erupted.