The Ukraine crisis and awkward moments around Russian President Vladimir Putin promise to dominate President Barack Obama's trip to Europe next week.
Obama plans his first meeting with the president-elect he hopes can lead Ukraine out of crisis, Petro Poroshenko. As well, all three men are to attend a somber gathering of world leaders on June 6, observing the 70th anniversary of the Allied landing in Normandy. Obama foreign policy adviser Ben Rhodes said that although the president will have cause to interact with Putin at the gathering, there are no plans for a formal meeting.
Rhode told reporters in a conference call previewing the trip Friday that Poroshenko's election last weekend as Ukraine's next president is an opportunity for Moscow to stop its support for pro-Russian separatists and reduce tensions that have caused destabilization and suffering in Ukraine. "However, we have not yet seen Russia take the steps that are necessary to reduce those tensions," Rhodes said.
Obama, Putin and Poroshenko plan to be among the leaders who attend lunch at a castle and a ceremony at Sword Beach.
Obama's bilateral meeting with Poroshenko will come earlier in his four-day European tour, on his first stop in Poland on Wednesday.
Obama plans to speak in Warsaw at a celebration to mark 25 years since Poland emerged from communism. The president will hold up Poland as an example for Ukraine, Rhodes said. "By consolidating their democracy, Poland has grown its economy and increased prosperity for its people in the course of the last 25 years," he said. He added that Obama plans to talk about the importance of alliances in holding up those democratic values and about America's "ironclad security commitment" to the defense of Poland and other NATO allies.
"In the context of Russia's intervention into Ukraine's territory, it's a very powerful moment to both look back at the history of how Polish democracy was won, but also look at the current moment and the need for the United States and Europe to stand together on behalf of the security of Eastern Europe and to stand in support of democratic values," Rhodes said.
Obama then plans to fly to Brussels to meet Group of Seven leaders, including Britain, France, Germany, Italy, Canada and Japan. The summit was originally supposed to be hosted by Russia in Sochi before the other members decided to cut Russia out after its annexation of Ukraine's Crimean Peninsula. Meetings Thursday will be focused on Ukraine and energy cooperation.
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