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September 25, 2017

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Russia's gains cloud Obama's assurances to Baltics

Russian President Vladimir Putin appears to only be increasing his provocations in the lead-up to Obama's trip to Estonia for meetings with Baltic leaders and to Wales for a NATO summit. While Obama has warned that Putin could face more economic penalties, he also continues to resist calls for the U.S. to provide military support to help Ukrainian forces push back the Russian incursion.

The president's response to the Ukraine crisis is just one element of a broader foreign policy approach that is drawing criticism from both opponents and allies who fear the White House is being too tentative in the face of global threats.

"I think Putin has sized up the West and figured that the most difficult sanctions against Russia and the arms necessary for the Ukrainians to be able to defend themselves is not coming from the West, and we have to prove him wrong," said Democratic Sen. Robert Menendez, chairman of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee.

Eugene Rumer, a former U.S. intelligence officer for Russia, said the inability of the U.S. and Europe to stop Putin so far is compounding fears in the countries near Russia's borders.

"They see Western responses as insufficient, which adds to their concerns," said Rumer, who now runs the Russia and Eurasia program at the Carnegie Endowment for International Peace.

The crisis between Russia and Ukraine has raised the stakes for this week's NATO summit. Obama will press member states to increase their defense spending, and the alliance is expected to agree on plans to boost training missions and other military commitments in Central and Eastern European countries.

"We will see persistent rotation, persistent exercises to ensure that Estonia and that other countries in Central and Eastern Europe are provided the reassurance from NATO and the presence of NATO needed to meet their security needs," said Charles Kupchan, the White House senior director for Europe.

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