President Barack Obama had harsh words for Russia’s military presence in Ukraine in a speech made in Estonia on Wednesday. Citing the tenth anniversary of Baltic nations joining NATO, Obama said America and other members of the European Union have a shared vision of “a Europe, that is whole, and free, and at peace.”
“That vision is threatened by Russia’s aggression against Ukraine,” Obama said. “It is a brazen assault on the territorial integrity of Ukraine, a sovereign and independent European nation. It challenges that most basic of principles of our international system, that borders cannot be redrawn at the barrel of a gun.”
Before directly addressing the situation in Ukraine, Obama seemed to criticise the regime of Russian President Vladimir Putin by describing the difference between “democracies” and “authoritarian” governments. He said America and other countries are not “afraid” to have things including fair elections, a “free press,” “vibrant debate,” internet access, and a “strong civil society.”
“Our way will always be stronger,” said Obama. “True legitimacy can only come from one source and that is the people.”
Obama also attempted to “put to rest” what he described as the “distortions or outdated thinking that has caused this crisis” in Ukraine. Russia has said protests in that country that ousted the country’s Moscow-allied President Viktor Yanukovych earlier this year were organised by fascists. Furthermore, Russia has denied extensive links with rebels who have fought Ukranian troops and said its military has only recently entered the country for humanitarian purposes. In his speech, Obama said all of these claims from the Kremlin were untrue.
He described the strategy employed by Russia and the rebels as “dark tactics from Europe’s past that ought to be consigned to a distant history.”
Obama also stressed America’s willingness to defend its NATO allies in the region.
“We will defend our NATO allies, and that means every ally,” said the president, adding, “We’ll be here for Estonia, we will be here for Latvia, we will be here for Lithuania. You lost your independence once before, with NATO, you will never lose it again.”
Obama went on to identify several goals for the NATO alliance going forward. Specifically, he cited efforts to “further increase America’s military presence in Europe.” He also said NATO members must participate in efforts to improve their “readiness” to respond to threats more quickly in the future.
This post was updated at 9:44 a.m.
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