WASHINGTON, March 27, 2014 – President Barack Obama appealed to logic and emotion to explain the American position on events in Ukraine and again laid out the case for Russia to disengage and rescind its annexation of Crimea.
The president spoke yesterday at the Palais des Beaux-Arts in Brussels after meetings with NATO and European Union officials.
Obama said Europe learned from a century of war and suffering brought about by the clash of opposing ideologies. “In the aftermath of World War II, America joined with Europe to reject the darker forces of the past and build a new architecture of peace,” he said.
The Marshall Plan to rebuild the continent and the establishment of NATO to defend it were two sides of the same coin, the president said. “Across the Atlantic, we embraced a shared vision of Europe, a vision based on representative democracy, individual rights and a belief that nations can meet the interests of their citizens through trade and open markets, a social safety net, respect for those of different faiths and backgrounds,” Obama said.
Progress has been made not just in Europe, but around the world. Now Russia challenges that progress. “Russia’s leadership is challenging truths that only a few weeks ago seemed self-evident, that in the 21st century, the borders of Europe cannot be redrawn with force, that international law matters, that people and nations can make their own decisions about their futures,” Obama said.
The United States and Europe could chose to ignore Russia’s actions, “but that kind of casual indifference would ignore the lessons that are written in the cemeteries of this continent,” Obama said. “It would allow the old way of doing things to regain a foothold in this young century.”
Russia has violated international law by its assault on Ukraine’s sovereignty and territorial integrity, Obama said. That move “must be met with condemnation,” the president said, “not because we’re trying to keep Russia down, but because the principles that have meant so much to Europe and the world must be lifted up.”
The United States, European nations and other partners have united in defense of these ideals and in support of the Ukrainian people, the president said.
“Together, we’ve condemned Russia’s invasion of Ukraine and rejected the legitimacy of the Crimean referendum,” he said. “Together, we have isolated Russia politically, suspending it from the G-8 nations and downgrading our bilateral ties. Together, we are imposing costs through sanctions that have left a mark on Russia and those accountable for its actions.
“And if the Russian leadership stays on its current course, together, we will ensure that this isolation deepens,” he continued. “Sanctions will expand, and the toll on Russia’s economy, as well as its standing in the world, will only increase.”
Obama vowed to support the people of Ukraine as they work to chart a democratic course. He pledged support as Ukrainians try to replace a kleptocracy with a representative government.
“Make no mistake, neither the United States nor Europe has any interest in controlling Ukraine,” Obama said. “We have sent no troops there. What we want is for the Ukrainian people to make their own decisions, just like other free people around the world.”
Obama stressed this is not a continuation of the Cold War. “The United States and NATO do not seek any conflict with Russia,” he said. “In fact, for more than 60 years we have come together in NATO not to claim other lands, but to keep nations free.”
The NATO allies will uphold their responsibilities under the Washington Treaty that established the alliance to work together in a common defense. An attack on one is treated as an attack on all. “NATO nations never stand alone,” the president said. “Today NATO planes patrol the skies over the Baltics, and we’ve reinforced our presence in Poland, and we’re prepared to do more.”
The president called on the NATO allies to show political will by investing in collective defense and by developing the capabilities to serve as a source of international peace and security.
But Ukraine is not a NATO ally, and Russia will not be dislodged from Crimea or deterred from further escalation by military force, he said.
“But with time — so long as we remain united — the Russian people will recognize that they cannot achieve the security, prosperity and the status that they seek through brute force,” Obama said. “And that’s why throughout this crisis we will combine our substantial pressure on Russia with an open door for diplomacy.”
It is possible to forge peace between Ukraine and Russia through de-escalation, Obama said. He proposed a direct dialogue between Russian and Ukrainian leaders facilitated by the international community. He called for monitors to protect the rights of all Ukrainians, a process of constitutional reform within Ukraine and free and fair elections this spring.
“So far, Russia has resisted diplomatic overtures, annexing Crimea and massing large forces along Ukraine’s border,” Obama said. “Russia has justified these actions as an effort to prevent problems on its own borders and to protect ethnic Russians inside Ukraine. Of course, there is no evidence, never has been, of systemic violence against ethnic Russians inside of Ukraine.”
The world has an interest in a strong and responsible Russia, the president said. “We want the Russian people to live in security, prosperity and dignity like everyone else, proud of their own history,” he said. “But that does not mean that Russia can run roughshod over its neighbors. Just because Russia has a deep history with Ukraine does not mean it should be able to dictate Ukraine’s future. No amount of propaganda can make right something that the world knows is wrong.”
Now is the time for the world’s democracies to unite against Russia’s annexation of Crimea, Obama said, and to meet this challenge to their ideals and to international order.
“I believe that if we hold firm to our principles and are willing to back our beliefs with courage and resolve, then hope will ultimately overcome fear, and freedom will continue to triumph over tyranny, because that is what forever stirs in the human heart,” the president said.