President Barack Obama on Wednesday harshly condemned Russian aggression in Ukraine as a threat to peace in Europe and pledged that NATO will protect allies who fear they will be Moscow’s next target. Standing on Russia’s doorstep, Obama declared “this is a moment of testing” for the Western alliance to stand up to the Kremlin.
At the same time, the Pentagon announced that 200 U.S. soldiers would participate in an exercise in western Ukraine starting next week. Though largely a symbolic move, distant from the conflict with Russian-backed separatists, it would mark the first presence of American ground troops in Ukraine since the crisis began.
Obama’s tough words set the stage for a pivotal summit of the 28-nation NATO alliance beginning Thursday in Wales. Obama offered no new prescriptions for solving the central conflict that has put Eastern Europe on edge: Russia’s months-long incursion in Ukraine.
Multiple rounds of U.S. and European economic sanctions have done little to shift Putin’s tactics, and Obama remains staunchly opposed to U.S. military intervention. Unlike the Baltics and other Eastern European nations, Ukraine is not a member of NATO, meaning the U.S. and other allies have no treaty obligation to come to its defense.