World
2:56 pm
Wed March 26, 2014

In Brussels, Obama Seeks Broader Support For Ukraine

Originally published on Wed March 26, 2014 6:24 pm

Transcript

AUDIE CORNISH, HOST:

From NPR News, this is ALL THINGS CONSIDERED. I'm Audie Cornish.

ROBERT SIEGEL, HOST:

And I'm Robert Siegel. American solidarity with Europe was on display today as President Obama visited Brussels. Days after the Russian annexation of Crimea, the president met with leaders of NATO and the European Union, and he gave a speech to a concern hall packed with university students. In that speech, Obama stood firm on his response to the crisis in Ukraine.

NPR's Ari Shapiro is travelling with the president.

(SOUNDBITE OF SONG, 'TAPS')

ARI SHAPIRO, BYLINE: President Obama started his morning with a wreath-laying ceremony at Flanders Field. This World War I battlefield holds the remains of 368 American soldiers. As Europe marks the 100th anniversary of the war, President Obama reached across the century to underscore one of this trip's key themes.

PRESIDENT BARACK OBAMA: Long after those guns fell silent, this bond has endured.

SHAPIRO: This bond between the U.S. and Europe. Belgium's King Philippe made an even more pointed link between World War I and the present day.

KING PHILIPPE LEOPOLD LOUIS MARIE: Our countries have learned the hard way that national sovereignty quickly reaches its limits when confronted with heavily armed adversary who do not respect that sovereignty.

SHAPIRO: It doesn't take much of a leap to tie that idea to Russia's annexation of Crimea. In the afternoon, President Obama met with leaders of the European Union where Ukraine was the main focus. He sees these men a lot, even just earlier this week in The Hague. But in the six years of his presidency, he's never before been to Brussels.

OBAMA: So it's good to finally meet the president of the European Union at the European Union.

SHAPIRO: Obama said one focus of the meeting was how to make Europe less dependent on Russian energy. That reliance is one reason the Europeans have been reluctant to impose harsh sanctions on Russia.

OBAMA: The question is whether through our energy ministers and at the highest levels we're able to find ways in which we can accelerate this process of diversification.

SHAPIRO: After meeting with the EU, the president went to NATO headquarters where he reassured Eastern European members of the military alliance that if Russia keeps advancing West, NATO will come to the rescue. The president wrapped up this visit to Brussels with a major speech, the most detailed justification he's given for America's response to the Ukraine crisis.

OBAMA: 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.

SHAPIRO: He said America doesn't even have a very strong economic or national security interest in Ukraine, but Obama argues that ignoring Russia's behavior could undo much of the progress that Europe and the rest of the world have made since World War II.

OBAMA: It would allow the old way of doing things to regain a foothold in this young century and that message would be heard, not just in Europe, but in Asia, in the Americas, in Africa and the Middle East.

SHAPIRO: In a way, this felt like a response to Russian President Vladimir Putin's stem-winder of a speech in Moscow last week, minus the tears and the standing ovations. Obama rebutted specific lines from Putin's address and responded to individual accusations from Putin.

OBAMA: It's not America that filled the Maidan with protestors. It was Ukrainians.

SHAPIRO: This presidential visit to Europe has been planned for years, but given the situation in Ukraine, it could not be more timely. In the last few days, the president has met with major global alliances and prominent world leaders face to face. Several times a day, he has spoken publically about the crisis in Ukraine and he is leaving Brussels with alliances that appear far more resolute in opposition to Russia's actions than they were a week ago.

Ari Shapiro, NPR News, Brussels. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.