Confrontation in Ukraine ‘Was Born in Putin’s Mind,’ Vice-President Says

April 30, 2014

Taleen Ananian, 202.778.4993

WASHINGTON –  President Barack Obama will visit Poland in June for the 25th anniversary of the elections that marked that country’s exit from its era of communist rule under Soviet domination, Vice President Joe Biden said at the Atlantic Council today. Obama’s visit to Poland comes as the US administration seeks to bolster Eastern European allies amid the transatlantic community’s confrontation with Russia over its attacks on Ukraine. From Poland, Obama will visit Brussels to discuss the Russia-Ukraine crisis with other leaders of the Group of Seven industrialized nations, Biden said.

As the United States and its European allies grapple with Russia’s seizure of Crimea and its backing for violent attacks in eastern Ukrainian cities, “we have a lot of work cut out for us in the very near term,” Biden told European government ministers, diplomats, and US and European policy specialists. His address closed a two-day conference at the Council on the future of efforts to build the undivided, free Europe envisioned by Western policymakers following the end of World War II.

The conference marked a decade since the 2004 expansions of NATO and the European Union, the broadest in their histories, as Central and Eastern European states became members after the Cold War.

In his most emphatic remark, Biden dismissed declarations by the government of Russian President Vladimir Putin blaming the tensions over Ukraine on the inclusion by NATO of Eastern European states as members. “Let’s be clear: the current crisis … has nothing to do with the enlargement of NATO,” Biden said. “It was born in the Kremlin. It was born in Putin’s mind.”

Also at the conference, European Commission President Jose Manuel Barroso described the crisis as “the biggest challenge to peace in Europe since the fall of the Berlin wall, if not even since the Second World War.” , particularly in terms of its possible implications not only for European, but for global peace and security. He emphasized Ukraine’s right to associate with both the European Union and Russia.

Biden stressed that the United States and Europe must help Ukraine accomplish reforms to help the country meet the aspirations of its 46 million people, which remain unfulfilled after more than two decades of independence “in significant part because of corruption.”

“This needs to be a government that exists to serve the people and not enrich the powerful,” Biden said.

Biden spoke after former top US officials, Republicans and Democrats, urged President Obama to better explain to Americans why Russia’s attacks on Ukraine are a threat for a United States whose voters are inclined to withdraw from international affairs. Former Secretary of State Madeleine Albright noted public opinion polls showing a rise in Americans’ desire to reduce the United States’ involvement in foreign affairs.

 A central reason for American lack of interest in the Russia crisis is that President Obama has failed to speak prominently and consistently about the threat it poses to US interests, said Stephen Hadley, the former national security advisor to George W. Bush. Low domestic support for US help to Ukraine is “in some sense because we have not had this kind of presidential leadership,” Hadley said. “I don’t mean to be critical, but it is a fact. And [former national security advisor to President Jimmy Carter] Zbig Brzezinski was very clear yesterday” in his own remarks at the conference, saying that “the president needs to speak to the country about Ukraine.” 

The conference is followed tonight by the Atlantic Council’s presentation of its annual Distinguished Leadership Awards to those who represent pillars of the transatlantic relationship. This year’s awardees are the US Secretary of Defense Chuck Hagel, European Commission President José Manuel Barroso, Airbus Group CEO Thomas Enders, Marine Corps General Joseph F. Dunford, Jr., on behalf of the men and women of NATO’s International Security Assistance Force (ISAF) in Afghanistan, and the Ukrainian civic activist and singer Ruslana Lyzhychko.