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NATO

Obama slams 'Russia's aggression,' touts NATO's role in Europe

A day ahead of a key NATO summit, US President Obama has delivered a speech in Estonia touting the importance of the military alliance. At the same time, he took Russia to task for its role in the Ukraine conflict.

Barack Obama's speech Wednesday in the Estonian capital Tallinn, contained several direct references to Russia's role in the current conflict between Ukrainian armed forces and pro-Russian separatists in eastern Ukraine.

Obama was in Estonia to meet with Baltic leaders before heading to Wales for a NATO summit on Thursday. There, it is expected NATO will approve plans to position at least 4,000 troops and military equipment in Eastern Europe to counteract what Obama called "Russia's aggression" in eastern Ukraine.

"We’ll meet as an alliance with [Ukrainian President Petro] Poroshenko to show that our 28 nations are united in support of Ukraine’s sovereignty," Obama said.

Estonia is a NATO ally, and Obama sought to reassure other Baltic members of the alliance that they would receive help if it was needed. Estonia, Latvia and Lithuania - former Soviet republics that are now NATO members - have observed the Ukraine crisis with growing concern for their own security.

"In this alliance, there are no old members or new members, no senior partners or junior partners - there are just allies, pure and simple," Obama said. "And we will defend the territorial integrity of every single one."

Estonian President Toomas Hendrick Ilves welcomed Obama's comments, but is still pushing for an increased long-term NATO presence in his country. Under an agreement with Russia in 1997, NATO said it would not permanently put bases on Russia's borders.

"I would argue this is an unforeseen and new security environment," Ilves said of the current conflict in Ukraine, which has seen Russia mobilize many forces along its border with the country.

German Chancellor Angela Merkel said on Wednesday that "when it comes to the question of the defense of the Baltic countries, I assume that the territorial integrity of these countries will be preserved," referring to Moscow's intentions in the region.

mz/dr (AP, AFP)

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