TALLINN, Estonia (AP) — Lashing out at Russia, President Barack Obama on Wednesday cast Moscow’s aggression in Ukraine as a threat to peace in Europe. He vigorously vowed to come to the defense of NATO allies that fear they could be Vladimir Putin’s next target.
‘‘You lost your independence once before,’’ Obama said following meetings with Baltic leaders in the Estonian capital of Tallinn. ‘‘With NATO, you'll never lose it again.’’
Obama, who faces criticism in the US for being too cautious in confronting Russian President Putin, sharply condemned Moscow’s provocations. He declared in blunt terms that Russian forces that have moved into Ukraine in recent weeks are not on a humanitarian or peacekeeping mission, as the Kremlin has insisted.
‘‘They are Russian combat forces with Russian weapons in Russian tanks,’’ he said during a speech at a packed concert hall.
Obama also took aim at one of Russia’s main rationales for its provocations in Ukraine: the protection of Russian speakers living outside its borders. Like Ukraine, Estonia and other Baltic nations have sizeable Russian-speaking populations, compounding their fears that Moscow could seek to intervene inside their borders.
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