President Barack Obama on Wednesday called on Europe and the U.S. to stand firm against Russia’s annexation of Crimea, warning that a failure to push back against Russia’s “illegal” action would undermine a century of international progress.
Delivering remarks on the U.S.-European relationship at the Palais des Beaux-Arts in Brussels on the third day of his international trip, Obama framed the Ukraine crisis as a conflict between self-determination and might. But he rejected the notion that recent events are the beginning of another global struggle.
“This is not another Cold War that we’re entering into,” he said in his 36-minute address. “After all, unlike the Soviet Union, Russia leads no bloc of nations, no global ideology. The United States and NATO do not seek any conflict with Russia. In fact, for more than 60 years we have come together in NATO not to claim other lands but to keep nations free.”
“Russia’s leadership is challenging truths that only a few weeks ago seemed self-evident, that in the 21st century, the borders of Europe cannot be redrawn with force, that international law matters, that people and nations can make their own decisions about their future,” he continued, emphasizing that there is no military solution to the situation in Crimea.
Obama acknowledged that both in Europe and the U.S., many may doubt the impact of Russia’s actions in Ukraine, but cautioned that “casual indifference” would send a dangerous message to the world.
“To be honest, if we define our interests narrowly, if we applied a coldhearted calculus, we might decide to look the other way,” Obama said. “But that kind of casual indifference would ignore the lessons that are written in the cemeteries of this continent.”
Over the course of his foreign trip, Obama has worked to marshal European allies to embrace the prospect of sanctioning the Russian economy if its government doesn’t change course — an action that could cost the global economy as well as Russia. Earlier on Wednesday, Obama and E.U. leaders met to discuss the potential for additional sanctions, with the E.U. pledging to move with the U.S. if Russia further escalates the situation in Ukraine.
Addressing Russia’s comparison of its move on Ukraine with U.S. actions in Iraq, Obama defended the U.S.’s handling of that war, saying that even though he did not support it, it was completely different.
“Even in Iraq, America sought to work within the international system,” Obama said. “We did not claim or annex Iraq’s territory. We did not grab its resources for our own gain. Instead, we ended our war and left Iraq to its people in a fully sovereign Iraqi state that can make decisions about its own future.”
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