Obama in Europe: What it means?

Obama will meet President Poroshenko and it seems there will be also some limited interaction with President Putin. What is the main goal of Obama’s visit to Europe in your opinion and what is Europe expecting from him? Read few comments.

Jörg ForbrigSenior Program Officer for Central and Eastern Europe, Director of the Fund for Belarus Democracy, German Marshall Fund

The primary occasion of President Obama’s visit is twofold – the 25th anniversary of the semi-free elections in Poland, and the 70th anniversary of D-Day. With these two main legs of the trip, one in Central Europe and one in Western Europe, the visit lends itself to delivering a targeted messages on the Ukraine crisis and confrontation with Russia, which will definitely be at the top of the agenda of all meetings. In Poland, the U.S. President will certainly try to give new EU and NATO members maximum verbal assurances of American support in the face of Russian assertiveness. In France and Belgium, Obama will surely try to impress upon reluctant Western Europeans that pressure on Russia needs to be ramped up.

However, it is hard to see that Central Europeans will be satisfied with U.S. assurances, and that Western Europeans will be willing to face up to Russia. More likely, Obama will fail on both accounts. His messages to Europeans will also be read against the background of the major foreign policy speech, which President Obama delivered at West Point a few days ago. In this speech, the problem building in Eastern Europe occupied very little space; and where it did, it did not appreciate the seriousness of the Ukraine crisis. According to Obama, the Ukraine crisis does not herald a new Cold War, implying that it represents a regional conflict to be resolved, first and foremost, by Europe.

It is in this respect that Europeans, and Central Europeans in particular, need to make clear to Obama the significance of the Ukraine crisis and the Russian shift towards a confrontative foreign policy broadly. The new Putin doctrine may immediately threaten “only” Russia’s direct neighbors, such as Ukraine. However, it also beginning to undermine Europe as such, thus the United States’ most important ally in the world. And if allowed to bully its direct neighbors and to manipulate Europe, the Kremlin will only feel emboldened to challenge the U.S. on the global stage. To make these consequences clear to Obama should be Europe’s main task in the coming days.

Hylke DijkstraAssistant Professor, Department of Political Science, Maastricht University

The whole trip of President Obama to Europe this week is interesting. While the visit to Normandy in France for the 70th D-Day commemoration ceremony had long been planned, the G7 Summit in Brussels was added in March, the extra stop in Warsaw in late April, and the meeting with President Poroshenko only last week.

These three additions have all to do with the Russian invasion in Ukraine. First, Russian membership of the G8 was suspended in March as a result of its annexation of Crimea. The G8 Summit, which was supposed to take place in Sochi was cancelled and moved to Brussels. Second, the extra visit to Warsaw must be seen in light of the ongoing tensions with Russia over Ukraine. Poland has been a key actor in the process and this is a strong sign of US support. Finally, after the elections in Ukraine on 25 May went relatively smoothly, Obama is now meeting President Poroshenko in the margins of his European trip.

Everything about Obama’s visit is diplomatic. From the cancelling of the G8 Summit to the meeting with Poroshenko, Obama wants to show that the US remains closely involved. The meeting with Poroshenko is a strong signal that the US considers him the legitimate leader of Ukraine. All these things having been said, unlike Vice-President Biden, Obama is not visiting Ukraine itself. This would perhaps provoke Russia too much and undermine current deescalation efforts.




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