US Vice-President rushes to Europe, reassures allies on Russia’s borders

East Europe anxious after Russia ‘land grab’ in Crimea; US considers sending troops to Baltic states

People at a rally in support of Crimea joining Russia, celebrate holding Russian flags at Red Square in Moscow Tuesday. AP People at a rally in support of Crimea joining Russia, celebrate holding Russian flags at Red Square in Moscow Tuesday. AP
Warsaw | Published on:March 19, 2014 12:38 am

The United States is considering sending troops for war games in the Baltic states bordering Russia, Vice-President Joe Biden said Tuesday in an effort to reassure NATO allies alarmed at the Kremlin’s intervention in Ukraine.

Moscow’s despatch of troops to Ukraine’s Crimea region and its unilateral declaration that the area is now part of Russia have left NATO member states in eastern Europe worried that they could be next in line.

In the Polish capital on the first leg of a two-day trip to the region, Biden condemned Russia’s actions in Crimea as a land grab, and he said NATO’s commitment to protect any of its members from attack was unwavering.

He also said the United States would work on reducing the dependence of eastern European states on imported Russian fuel, a relationship that, US officials say, the Kremlin uses as a tool of political influence.

Biden’s suggestion of sending US troops for military exercises in the Baltics, if it is implemented, would represent the strongest concrete evidence to date of Washington’s resolve in backing up its NATO allies on Russia’s doorstep.

“We are exploring a number of additional steps to increase the pace and scope of our military cooperation including rotating US forces to the Baltic region to conduct ground and naval exercises and training missions,” Biden told reporters after talks with Estonian President Toomas Hendrik Ilves, who was visiting Warsaw.

Earlier, at a briefing alongside Polish Prime Minister Donald Tusk, Biden described Russia’s actions as an assault on Ukraine’s sovereignty and a violation of international law.

“Russia has offered a variety of arguments to justify what is nothing more than a land grab,” Biden said. “But the world has seen through Russia’s actions and rejected the logic, the flawed logic, behind those actions.”

Russia said it sent troops to Crimea to protect Russian residents, who it said were in danger in the unrest that followed toppling of Ukraine’s pro-Russian president. A referendum in Crimea Sunday backed union with Russia, though the West called that vote a Moscow-orchestrated sham.

Biden said the events in Crimea were a reminder to NATO members that they need to stand together.
The three Baltic states, Estonia, Latvia and Lithuania, are in NATO and the EU. Yet they are particularly vulnerable to any Russian action. They are small, they depend on Russia for energy and trade, and they have sizeable Russian-speaking minorities.

Gorbachev: Crimean vote ‘happy event’

MOSCOW: Former Soviet President Mikhail Gorbachev has hailed Crimea’s vote to join Russia as a “happy event”. Gorbachev said in remarks carried Tuesday by online newspaper that the vote offered the Crimean residents the freedom of choice and justly reflected their will. He said Sunday’s referendum showed that “people really wanted to return to Russia” …continued »

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