U.S. Vice President Joe Biden called Russia’s move into Crimea “a land grab” that will be met with united global opposition and result in Russia’s isolation.
The U.S. and its allies are “absolutely confident that we’re up to the challenge” of confronting Russia, Biden said in Warsaw in the first public remarks by a U.S. official after Russian President Vladimir Putin told lawmakers in Moscow that Crimea is an “inalienable” part of Russia.
Biden spoke after meeting in Warsaw with Prime Minister Donald Tusk, who said the annexation of Crimea is “not acceptable” and that Europe must be united in opposing it.
“The Crimean events and Russia’s unprecedented decisions aren’t just a problem for Ukraine and its neighbors. Russia’s actions in Crimea are a challenge to the whole world,” he said.
Poland is Biden’s first stop on a two-day show of U.S. support for NATO allies amid the heightened tension in the region. His agenda includes talks on what steps the U.S and NATO can take to strengthen Poland and the Baltic states, including training exercises and diversifying the region’s energy supply, to respond to Russian aggression in Ukraine, according to an administration official.
In a further show of unity, President Barack Obama invited the heads of state from Canada, France, Germany, Italy, Japan, and the U.K., as well as the European Union, to a meeting of G-7 nations on March 24 on the sidelines of a Nuclear Security Summit in The Hague planned March 24-25.
“The meeting will focus on the situation in Ukraine and further steps that the G-7 may take to respond to developments and to support Ukraine,” said Caitlin Hayden, a spokeswoman for the National Security Council at the White House. G-7 nations had earlier suspended preparations for the G-8 Summit in Sochi, Russia, in June.
Biden said the North Atlantic Treaty Organization will “emerge from the crisis stronger and more unified than ever.”
The U.S. vice president also is scheduled to hold talks with Polish President Bronislaw Komorowski and Estonian President Toomas Hendrik Ilves before leaving for Vilnius, Lithuania, for sessions with Latvian President Andris Berzins and Lithuanian President Dalia Grybauskaite.
Biden left Washington last night, hours after Obama joined with EU leaders to slap sanctions on Russian officials and Putin allies. Putin responded by recognizing Crimea as a sovereign state, following a March 16 referendum on the Black Sea peninsula on joining Russia. The U.S. and EU regard the vote as illegitimate.
Putin said today that Russia doesn’t intend to occupy eastern Ukraine. He blamed Western encroachment for forcing him to annex Crimea, where Russia maintains a naval base and which was Russian territory until 1954.
In the coming weeks, the U.S. will meet with European partners to discuss ways to diversify their energy sources to make them less dependent on Russia. Biden said he and Tusk talked about steps Poland is taking to reverse natural gas flows in some pipelines and help Ukrainians access additional supplies of gas. Biden and Tusk also discussed trans-Atlantic trade negotiations.
NATO in recent days has augmented the Baltic air policing mission, the official said. He said General Philip Breedlove, the supreme allied commander, will meet with defense chiefs of Central and Eastern Europe in Croatia to discuss security issues.
Obama said yesterday at the White House that Biden’s trip would show that “as NATO allies, we have a solemn commitment to our collective defense, and we will uphold this commitment.”
Russian forces have been stepping up military maneuvers near Ukraine’s eastern border, raising concern in the region about Putin’s intentions. He accused Lithuania and Poland on March 4 of training the “extremists” who ousted Kremlin-backed Ukrainian President Viktor Yanukovych after three months of anti-government protests.
The Pentagon announced last week it would send 12 F-16 aircraft to Poland as a demonstration of U.S. commitment to defend its allies in the region. The U.S. previously sent six fighter jets to Lithuania.
Ukraine isn’t a member of NATO.
Ukrainian Prime Minister Arseniy Yatsenyuk, visiting the White House last week, said his country will “never surrender” to Russia and called on Putin to “tear down this wall,” a reference to Ronald Reagan’s message to Mikhail Gorbachev delivered in a 1987 speech just before the collapse of the Soviet Union.