Obama Says Peace And Freedom Threatened By Russian Agreession In Ukraine
By Matthew Chance and Laura Smith-Spark
TALLINN, Estonia (CNN) — After praising the Estonian people for standing together for freedom and democracy in the post-Soviet era, President Barack Obama said Wednesday that a vision of a Europe dedicated to peace and freedom is “threatened by Russia’s aggression against Ukraine.” It challenges the most basic principles of the international system: that no border can be withdrawn at the barrel of a gun, Obama said in Estonia.
The president said Wednesday that NATO will always come to the defense of its member states, including the Baltic nations. “We will defend our NATO allies, and that means every ally,” he said in Estonia. “We will be here for Estonia. … You lost your independence once before. With NATO, you will never lose it again.”
Ukraine’s President announced a ceasefire agreement Wednesday with Russia, but Obama greeted it with skepticism and Moscow downplayed it.
Obama, speaking during a visit to Estonia, said he was aware of the reported deal. But he said it was too early to see if all sides would follow through.
Any ceasefire effort has not worked up to now, he said, “either because Russia has not supported it or pretended it is not controlling the separatists” in eastern Ukraine.
“Having said that, if in fact Russia is prepared to stop financing, arming, training and in many cases joining with Russian troops’ activities in Ukraine, and is serious about a political settlement, that is something that we all hope for,” Obama added.
Since mid-April, Ukrainian forces have been battling pro-Russian rebels in eastern Ukraine. Kiev and the West say the rebels are supported by Moscow — a claim Moscow denies.
Ukrainian President Petro Poroshenko’s office said he and Russian President Vladimir Putin had agreed to the ceasefire following a phone call.
“The conversation resulted in an agreement on ceasefire regime in the Donbas (eastern Ukraine region). The parties reached mutual understanding on the steps that will facilitate the establishment of peace,” a statement from the presidential press office said.
An earlier statement from Poroshenko’s office said “an agreement on a full ceasefire in Donbas” had been reached.
A spokesman for the Russian President cast doubt on that reading of the call.
“There is no confirmation of a ceasefire because Putin cannot agree (to) a ceasefire because he is not party to the conflict,” Putin spokesman Dmitry Peskov told CNN.
“What was agreed were steps that would lead to a ceasefire. The important thing is to bring an end to the bloodshed and to stop the firing. Everyone is trying to de-escalate the conflict.”
Peskov also said the longer term issue of constitutional reform in Ukraine was not discussed.
However, the spokesman told Russian state news agency Itar-Tass that Putin’s view on possible ways out of the crisis “largely coincides” with that of Poroshenko.
Rebels question ceasefire
A rebel spokesman in eastern Ukraine expressed doubt a ceasefire could hold and demanded federal troops withdraw from the region, according to Russia’s state-run RIA Novosti news agency.
Vladislav Briga, the spokesman for the Defense Ministry of the self-declared Donetsk People’s Republic, told the news agency the rebels had not heard Poroshenko’s proposal for a ceasefire and that the separatists doubted Kiev had control over all its forces in the east.
An aide to another rebel leader, the DPR’s First Deputy Prime Minister Andrei Purgin, told RIA Novosti that Poroshenko’s ceasefire move was unilateral and was “impractical” while there were still Ukrainian forces in the disputed region.
“This is some sort of a game by Kiev. This was completely unexpected. This decision was made without us,” Purgin’s aide quoted him as saying, according to the news agency.
Putin has consistently argued that Russia has no say over ending the conflict because it is not involved in it on the ground.
U.S. and NATO officials say that in recent days Russia has sent its own troops and heavy weaponry into Ukraine, as well as training and arming the rebels.
Obama vows support
Obama, speaking Wednesday alongside the Estonian President in Tallinn, said Russia is “paying a heavy price” for its actions in Ukraine and that NATO is poised to do more to support Kiev.
Obama also pledged that the United States would stand by Estonia and other former Soviet states. Additional U.S. personnel and aircraft are being rotated through the Baltics as part of NATO operations, he said.
“I just hope it works,” Estonian President Toomas Hendrik Ilves said of the reported ceasefire agreement.
Obama’s trip, ahead of this week’s NATO summit in Wales, is meant to reassure nervous Eastern Europe that Putin’s support for separatists in Ukraine doesn’t mean he has a free pass for territorial gains elsewhere.
The United States and European Union have agreed that additional economic sanctions are needed to curb Russia’s actions in Ukraine.
“The sanctions that we’ve applied so far have had a real effect on Russia, and I think it’s important for us to continue to impose costs on Russia, so long as it is violating basic principles of international law,” said Obama.
Consideration of the new sanctions is a priority for member states, and the new package will be ready by the end of the week, EU spokeswoman Maja Kocijancic told CNN.
The proposals will include “sanctions on additional individuals and entities linked to Ukrainian separatists,” said Kocijancic, the spokeswoman for EU foreign policy chief Catherine Ashton.
It will also include a “deepening of the economic measures against Russia, including its access to the financial markets,” she said.
CNN’s Matthew Chance reported from Tallinn and Laura Smith-Spark wrote in London. CNN’s Phil Black, Alexander Felton and journalist Victoria Butenko contributed to this report.
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