President Barack Obama delivered his most direct, public rebuke of Russia and President Vladimir Putin in Belgium Wednesday, during the most high-profile address of his weeklong European trip.
Obama’s speech in Brussels served as a direct plea to Europe for a unified response to Russian aggression in Ukraine, in addition to the sanctions that have already been laid out. He said the West was not entering into another Cold War with Russia, but he described some of Putin’s recent actions as having stirred up the “darker forces of the past.”
“Make no mistake, neither the United States nor Europe has any interest in controlling Ukraine,” Obama said during the speech. “Understand, as well, this is not another Cold War that we’re entering into. After all, unlike the Soviet Union, Russia leads no bloc of nations, no global ideology. The United States and NATO do not seek any conflict with Russia.”
During the nearly 40-minute-long speech, Obama made the case to Europe that tough sanctions — perhaps even some inflicting potential harm on their own economies — are the best way to respond to Russian aggression.
Obama’s speech looked at the implications of the Ukrainian crisis in a broader context. He said Ukrainians had been determined to get their country back from what was a “corrupt” government, and he made a veiled comparison of Russia’s actions to the events that sparked previous World Wars.
“To be honest, if we defined our interests narrowly, with a cold-hearted calculus, we might decide to look the other way,” he said. “Our economy is not deeply integrated with Ukraine’s. Our people and our homeland face no direct threat from the invasion of Crimea. Our own borders are not threatened by Russia’s annexation. But that kind of casual indifference would ignore the lessons that are written in the cemeteries of this continent.”
Obama concluded by providing a defence of U.S. intervention in Iraq a decade ago. Obama opposed the war as a U.S. senator, loudly campaigned against it in 2008, and immediately developed plans to draw down troop presence from Iraq as president. However, he said it was foolish to compare U.S. actions in Iraq to Russia’s actions in Ukraine.
“Russia has pointed to America’s decision to go into Iraq as an example of Western hypocrisy. It is true that the Iraq War was a subject of vigorous debate — not just around the world, but in the United States as well. I happened to oppose our military intervention there,” Obama said. “But even in Iraq, America sought to work within the international system. We did not claim or annex Iraq’s territory, nor did we grab its resources for our own gain. Instead, we ended our war and left Iraq to its people, and a fully sovereign Iraqi state could make decisions about its own future.”
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