Obama says NATO must help strengthen Ukraine's military
US President Barack Obama urged NATO today to help strengthen Ukraine's military and said the alliance must leave the door open to new members to counter what he called Russian aggression.
Obama was speaking in Estonia, one of three ex-Soviet Baltic states bordering Russia that fear separatist rebellion in eastern Ukraine could herald problems for them. All three have sizeable Russian minorities and rely on Russian fuel deliveries.
Obama, who will attend a NATO summit in Wales on Thursday, accused Russia of a 'brazen assault' on Ukraine, which for five months has been fighting pro-Russian separatists that Moscow describes as a defence force warding off Ukrainian aggressors.
"NATO must make concrete commitments to help Ukraine modernize and strengthen its security forces. We must do more to help other NATO partners, including Georgia and Moldova, strengthen their defenses as well," he said a speech to a packed concert hall in the Estonian capital.
"And we must reaffirm the principle that has always guided our alliance, for countries that meet our standards and that can make meaningful contributions to allied security, the door to NATO membership will remain open," he said after meeting the leaders of the three ex-Soviet Baltic states.
Georgia fought a brief and disastrous war with Russia over a breakaway territory in 2008.
He said Washington would continue to offer training and assistance to help Ukraine's military gain strength.
In alluding to admission of new members in future, he made no explicit reference to Ukraine - something that would certainly have infuriated Russia.
Under the NATO treaty, an attack on any individual NATO state would be treated as an attack on all alliance members.
The Baltic states joined NATO and the European Union (EU) in 2004. Ukraine is not a member of either alliance, though it has repeatedly called for membership of both.
The current crisis unfolded when demonstrations in Kiev toppled a Kremlin-oriented president who had pulled back from a cooperation deal with EU in favour of closer ties with Moscow. Russia has described his fall as a coup backed by Ukrainian fascists and accuses Ukrainian forces of indiscrimate killing of ethnic Russian civilians in its bid to quell the rebellion.
"In terms of actions, we've seen aggression and appeals to national sentiments that have historically been very dangerous in Europe and are rightly a cause of concerns," Obama said at a news conference before his speech.