US President Barack Obama yesterday unveiled a US$1 billion US security plan for Eastern Europe aimed at allaying fears over a resurgent Kremlin and the escalating pro-Russian uprising in former Soviet state Ukraine.
Obama launched a major tour of Europe in Warsaw, where he will attend celebrations of the 25th anniversary of Poland’s first free elections that put both the country and the rest of Eastern Europe on a path out of Moscow’s orbit and toward democracy and economic prosperity.
However, the poignant ceremony has been haunted by those very countries’ fears of the Kremlin reasserting its Cold War-era grip over a large swath of Europe following its seizure of Ukraine’s Crimean Peninsula in March.
“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 said after inspecting a joint unit of US and Polish F-16 pilots.
Obama proposed an initiative of up to US$1 billion to finance extra US troop and military deployments to “new allies” in eastern Europe.
The “European Reassurance Initiative” — a historic plan that must be approved by the US Congress — would also build the capacity of non-NATO states, such as Ukraine and Georgia, to work with the US and the Western alliance and build their own defenses.
Obama’s first pivotal encounter is to come today, when he meets embattled Ukrainian president-elect Petro Poroshenko, whose country is threatened by civil war and its new pro-Western leadership grasping for protection from Washington.
The seven-week pro-Russian insurgency in Ukraine’s eastern rust belt grew only more violent after Poroshenko swept to power in a May 25 presidential ballot on a promise to quickly end fighting and save the nation of 46 million from economic collapse.
Hundreds of separatist gunmen staged one of their biggest offensives to date on Monday by attacking a Ukrainian border guard service camp in the region of Lugansk on the border with Russia.
Ukraine’s military reported suffering no fatalities and killing five rebels in a day-long battle that saw insurgents pelt the camp with mortar fire and deploy snipers on rooftops surrounding the base.
However, Lugansk’s self-declared “prime minister” Vasyl Nikitin said that at least three civilians and the separatist administration’s top health official had died.
A spokesman for Ukraine’s “anti-terrorist operation” in the east said one federal soldier was killed and another 13 wounded yesterday in a new bout of fighting in the neighboring coal mining province of Donetsk.
Washington’s commitment to Ukraine is to be reinforced when US Vice President Joe Biden travels to Kiev on Saturday to attend Poroshenko’s swearing in as the country’s fifth post-Soviet president.
The visit is meant to underscore the US position that the people of Ukraine — and not Moscow — should decide their destiny and overcome the cultural differences now tearing apart the vast country’s Russified east and more nationalist west.
Kiev has not yet invited any Moscow official to the inauguration and Russian President Vladimir Putin has yet to formally recognize the result of an election that saw rebels disrupt voting across swaths of the east.
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