President Barack Obama wednesday condemned Russia’s “dark tactics” and bullying in Ukraine and President Vladimir Putin hit back at American “aggression,” as new venom deepened the worst US-Russia clash in decades.
Obama met Ukraine’s president-elect Petro Poroshenko in Warsaw and promised years of US support, then blasted Russia and vowed to protect ex-Soviet states in NATO in a hawkish speech marking 25 years of Polish democracy.
“How can we allow the dark tactics of the 20th century to define this new century?” Obama asked, as he adopted the mantle of ‘leader of the West’ worn by previous presidents during the Cold War.
“As we’ve been reminded by Russia’s aggression in Ukraine, our free nations cannot be complacent in pursuit of the vision we share – a Europe that is whole and free and at peace,” said Obama who spoke behind bullet proof glass in front of the Royal Castle in Warsaw – a rebuilt symbol of Polish triumph over the destruction and tyranny of the 20th
Obama will come face-to-face with Putin on Friday in France. Though several European leaders are meeting the Russian leader and hope to pursue dialogue to ease the Ukraine crisis – which saw hundreds of rebels battle government forces Wednesday – Washington remains to be convinced.
“We will not accept Russia’s occupation of Crimea or its violations of Ukraine’s sovereignty,” Obama said.
“Our free nations will stand united so that further Russian provocations will only mean more isolation and costs for Russia,” Obama said, before heading to Belgium and a G7 summit dedicated to coordinating policy towards Moscow.
In a clear reference to Russia’s action in Crimea and wider Ukraine, Obama warned that “the days of empires and spheres of influence are over.”
“Bigger nations must not be allowed to bully the small, or impose their will at the barrel of a gun or with masked men taking over buildings.”
Putin said that he could not understand why Obama, who has spent months trying to isolate him over Ukraine, would not hold a formal meeting with him during 70th anniversary commemorations in Normandy.
“It is his choice, I am ready for dialogue,” Putin said in an interview with French broadcasters Europe1 and TF1 conducted at his dacha in the Black Sea resort of Sochi.
The Russian leader accused the United States of hypocrisy in its “aggressive” attempts to punish Russia over Ukraine.
“We have almost no military forces abroad yet look: everywhere in the world there are American military bases, American troops thousands of kilometres from their borders.
“They interfere in the interior affairs of this or that country. So it is difficult to accuse us of abuses.”