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Obama condemns Russia’s actions in Ukraine

September 3, 2014 at 6:10 PM EST
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JUDY WOODRUFF: President Obama had tough words for Russian President Vladimir Putin today as he and other world leaders prepared for tomorrow’s NATO summit.

Chief foreign affairs correspondent Margaret Warner reports.

MARGARET WARNER: As fighting between government troops and rebels raged in Eastern Ukraine, President Obama arrived in the Baltic state of Estonia and minced no words.

PRESIDENT BARACK OBAMA: It wasn’t the government in Kiev that destabilized Eastern Ukraine. It’s been the pro-Russian separatists, who are encouraged by Russia, financed by Russia, trained by Russia, supplied by Russia, and armed by Russia.

MARGARET WARNER: The president told a packed concert hall in Tallinn that the U.S. will never accept Russia’s seizure of Crimea or any other part of Ukraine. He also pledged full support for America’s NATO allies in the face of criticism at home that he’s too cautious in confronting Moscow.

PRESIDENT BARACK OBAMA: We will be here for Estonia. We will be here for Latvia. We will be here for Lithuania. You lost your independence once before. With NATO, you will never lose it again.

MARGARET WARNER: Mr. Obama’s one-day visit to Estonia came amid reports of a possible cease-fire agreement in Ukraine. Ukraine’s President Petro Poroshenko initially put out a statement saying he’d agreed on a truce with Russian President Vladimir Putin. But Moscow denied that, saying it wasn’t a party to the conflict.

Later, a revised statement from Kiev spoke only of steps that could lead to a cease-fire. But the pro-Russian separatists rejected it.

Putin, speaking later on a visit to Mongolia, laid out his own seven-point peace plan. It made no mention of withdrawing any Russian troops from Ukraine. The Kremlin still denies any are there. Poroshenko today made a more general appeal.

PRESIDENT PETRO POROSHENKO, Ukraine(through interpretor): Listen, how can anyone be against peace?  How can anyone reject the fact that people must stop dying?  How can we stop these awful events today?  It’s just barbarism when hostages are being shot dead, when schools full of civilians are being destroyed.

MARGARET WARNER: The burgeoning crisis and the relationship with Russia will take center stage at the NATO summit that starts in Wales tomorrow.

On Monday, NATO Secretary-General Anders Fogh Rasmussen called it a crucial summit in the organization’s history. One option on the table, creating a so-called rapid response force in Eastern Europe, with several thousand NATO troops ready to move on short notice.

At a news conference with Estonia’s president today, President Obama urged all NATO countries to pull their weight.

PRESIDENT BARACK OBAMA: Estonia contributes its full share, its full 2 percent of GDP, to the defense of our alliance. Estonia is an example of how every NATO member needs to do its fair share for our collective defense.

MARGARET WARNER: As it nervously watches events in Ukraine, the Estonian government said this week it wants more. It wants permanent NATO bases on its own territory.

In addition, Ukraine is now saying it wants to join the alliance. Meanwhile, the Pentagon announced today that 200 U.S. soldiers will take part in an exercise in Western Ukraine next week. And France said it’s halting the delivery of a warship to Russia.

But the tense situation in Eastern Europe won’t be the only topic on the agenda at the NATO summit. Officials are also set to discuss strategies for combating the Islamic State group in Iraq and Syria, as well as the way forward for the alliance in Afghanistan. Due to the bitter, contested presidential election there, the country has no set leader yet, so the Afghan government has yet to sign an agreement to keep any U.S. or NATO troops in the country after the end of this year.