In a speech aimed at Russian President Vladimir Putin, President Obama said Wednesday that the West will not renew the Cold War with Moscow over Ukraine, but he urged NATO allies to “chip in” to pay more for the alliance’s collective defense in the wake of Russia’s incursion into Crimea.
“This is not another Cold War that we’re entering into,” Mr. Obama said in Brussels, on a day when he met with NATO Secretary-General Anders Fogh Rasmussen. “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.”
The president also signaled that the U.S. and NATO would not respond militarily even if, as feared, Russia attempts to seize more Ukrainian territory by military force.
“Ukraine is not a member of NATO, in part because of its close and complex history with Russia,” the president said. “Nor will Russia be dislodged from Crimea or deterred from further escalation by military force.”
But Mr. Obama said that Russia’s action reinforces the need for all NATO members to contribute their fair share.
“If we’ve got collective defense, it means that everybody’s got to chip in,” Mr. Obama said at a press conference. “The situation in Ukraine reminds us that our freedom isn’t free.”
The U.S. contributes more than 33,000 soldiers to NATO and in recent years has picked up about 75 percent of the coalition’s costs. Britain is second in troop contributions with 5,200.
Mr. Obama, who is proposing significant cuts in U.S. defense spending, said he has had “some concerns about a diminished level of defense spending among some of our partners in NATO.”
“That’s understandable when you have an economic crisis and financial crisis and many countries are going through fiscal consolidation,” he said, “but we’ve got to be willing to pay for the assets, the personnel, the training that’s required to make sure that we have a credible NATO force and an effective deterrent force.”
Leaders of the Baltic states have criticized the U.S. and NATO in recent days for ignoring Russia’s military buildup and increased defense spending.
NATO’s strategic plan calls for increased spending on various capabilities, including cyberwarfare and intelligence. In 2013, however, only a few of the 28 member states, including the U.S. and Greece, had reached the coalition’s goal of spending 2 percent of gross domestic product on the alliance’s defense.
Britain and France, which reached 1.9 percent in 2013, have announced major cuts this year. Mr. Obama met with NATO leaders later Wednesday.
Mr. Rasmussen said the alliance is “the bedrock of security in Europe and in North America.”
“I welcome the steps that the United States has taken in response to Russia’s reckless and illegal military actions in Ukraine,” Mr. Rasmussen said, adding that NATO would “intensify our military cooperation with Ukraine, including helping the Ukrainians modernize their armed forces.”
“We do not seek confrontation, but we will not waver if challenged,” he said.
The president said the U.S. and Europe are united in punishing Russia with sanctions for its military action in Ukraine.
In a speech delivered as a scholarly counterpoint to Russian President Vladimir Putin’s justifications for annexing Crimea, Mr. Obama said Western ideals of democracy and freedom eventually will win out over Moscow’s land-grab in Ukraine.
“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,” Mr. Obama said. “I believe that over the long haul as nations that are free, as free people, the future is ours. I believe this not because I’m naive. These ideals are universal.”
He also rejected Mr. Putin’s argument that the U.S. is hypocritical because of past U.S. interventions against sovereign government in places such as Iraq and Kosovo.
Saying that he opposed the Iraq invasion in 2003, Mr. Obama said, “Even in Iraq, America sought to work within the international system. We did not claim or annex Iraq’s territory. We did not grab its resources for our own gain. Instead, we ended our war and left Iraq to its people in a fully sovereign Iraqi state that can make decisions about its own future.”
Mr. Obama said he has been working with the leaders of the European Council and the European Commission to impose broader sanctions against Russia if its forces try to seize more territory in Ukraine. Russia annexed the Crimean peninsula from Ukraine a week ago.
“The United States and Europe stand united on this issue,” Mr. Obama said. “We’re united in our determination to isolate Russia and impose costs for Russia’s actions.”
In Washington, congressional leaders said they had broken a logjam and were working to complete a bill to sanction Russia and target aid to the new government in Kiev.
A bill could be passed and be on the president’s desk as early as Thursday night, lawmakers said.
• Dave Boyer can be reached at email@example.com.
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