Obama heads into European maelstrom

Washington - US President Barack Obama on Tuesday flew directly into the worst East-West storm since the Cold War, heading first for Estonia, where he will warn Russia to keep its hands off former Soviet states now in Nato.

With the crisis over Ukraine fast developing into a dangerous confrontation between the Western alliance and the Kremlin, Obama boarded Air Force One for the flight across the Atlantic on a trip which will also include a critical Nato summit in Wales.

Another foreign policy saga stalking Obama - the rise of the Islamic State (ISIS) in Syria and Iraq - also took another turn for the worse Tuesday, with the apparent murder of US journalist Steven Sotloff depicted in a new video from the radical Sunni group.

The White House says Obama's mission in Estonia, where he will also meet the leaders of Latvia and Lithuania, is simple - to put Russia on notice that it must not attempt the kind of intimidation and infiltration of Nato's former Soviet members that it has carried out in Ukraine, a non-Nato member.

"Nato has played a leading role and produced ample evidence to indicate that Russia has intervened in ways that grossly violate the territorial integrity of the independent nation of Ukraine," said White House spokesperson Josh Earnest.

"It's not OK for large countries to flagrantly violate the territorial integrity of their smaller neighbours."

Symbolic speech

Obama headed first to the Estonian capital Tallinn, where he will give a highly symbolic speech on Wednesday and meet Estonian President Toomas Hendrik Ilves, Lithuanian President Dalia Grybauskaite and Latvia's president Andris Berzins.

The three Baltic states, which joined Nato in 2004, spent five decades under Soviet rule, and feel themselves vulnerable to the kind of covert warfare pioneered by Moscow in Ukraine owing to their substantial Russian minorities.

Senior Obama aides say the president will make clear that the United States regards its Article Five commitments on the collective self-defence of Nato members as sacrosanct, and will not tolerate any Russian moves on American allies.

To steel Obama's message ahead of its summit at the Celtic Manor resort in Wales, Nato has unveiled plans for a rapid reaction force of thousands of troops to reinforce the alliance's eastern flank.

Russia reacted angrily to the move, saying it was evidence of Nato's desire to aggravate tensions with Moscow, and vowed to reinforce its own defences as a result.

Ukraine's forces suffered new reverses on Tuesday against Moscow-backed rebels after accusing Russia of sending 1 000 regular troops into its eastern regions.

Russia denies the allegations and says it is trying to drive a land corridor towards the Crimea - a Ukrainian region which it annexed earlier this year.

'Critical moment'

Analysts say the trip to Europe marks a crucial moment in Obama's presidency - at a time when his foreign policy is under withering attack from rivals for failing to quell the territorial ambitions of both Russian President Vladimir Putin and ISIS radicals.

"This is a very dramatic backdrop, where Europe's security environment has turned upside down," said Heather Conley, of the Centre for Strategic and International Studies in Washington.

"Nato had never thought nine months ago that it would be focusing on a robust collective defensive posture in northern Europe, but that's exactly where we are today."

Obama left Washington without commenting on a video purported to show the ISIS execution of US journalist Sotloff, following the killing last month of another American reporter, James Foley.

The horrifying footage will increase pressure on Obama to come up with a swift and robust military plan to strike at ISIS strongholds inside Syria, after he caused a political storm last week by admitting he did not yet have a strategy to do so.

What to do about ISIS, and US efforts to build an international coalition to take on the group, will be a key feature of the Nato summit on Thursday and Friday.

The meeting will also consider the impact of Afghanistan's electoral crisis on plans to leave a small residual force in the country after alliance combat troops leave by the end of the year.

Rice Safari 2014-09-02 11:46:33 PM
The only strategy Obama has is to avoid making any decisions ever. That way when things go wrong he can wheedle his way out by claiming it was not his decision. A cunning moron is Obama, or a closet communist.
Deon Somethingelse Namaseb 2014-09-03 04:21:42 AM
Slaapgatste Ammerican President ooit.... Bush sou lankal a Russian geskiet het en sorry gese het
Mark Russell 2014-09-03 05:32:07 AM
Wow! Where is this ample evidence that had been produced regarding Russian involvement? Saying it is there does not make it so! No evidence produced on the downing of the flight, no evidence produced on the destruction of the Russian column that invaded Ukraine, no evidence for the taking of lugansk air port, no proof that the Russian aid was in fact an invasion force, no proof of erratic troop buildup on the borders, plenty proof of Ukraine incursions into Russia, plenty proof of US involvement in the violent overthrow of a elected government and the subsequent use of heavy artillery on their own citizens, plenty proof that Russia has signed peace agreement with kiev only to have kiev simply ignore it in the morning causing more deaths of its citizens. .... How much more do you need to start asking questions? If the constant feed of lies that have been disproved are not enough then nobody can help you break free of your brain washing.
Palo Khaile 2014-09-03 05:37:07 AM
I hate the fact that Obama is black, what a hipocrate
Diana Gill 2014-09-03 06:04:26 AM
The headline should be reading as Obama drag Europe into sh.t
Andrew Staples 2014-09-03 06:23:15 AM
If we are to believe the Americans, Russia now wants to invade all of Eastern Europe. Sounds like a tactic to drive countries into the "protective" arms of the US. Remember, only the US is allowed to destabilise and meddle in the affairs of others. Pot and kettle. Scroll up to see a picture of a real terrorist.
Mohammed Salajee 2014-09-03 06:32:30 AM
Black man in the White House.Don't corrupt the world.We don't need ur 2 cents.
Thomas Freeman 2014-09-03 06:58:23 AM
Putin and Russia can't reconcile themselves to the loss of the three Baltic Republics (Estonia, Latvia, and Lithuania) and Ukraine and Georgia. They will never realise that the Ukraine is NOT little Russia. Time for Putin to get a reality clout, along with supporters like Zuma and co. America will annihilate Russia's weak and outdated army. As for sanctions they are starting to bite. Goodbye Putin.
Shaun Matuwane 2014-09-03 07:27:36 AM
But President Zuma sets out a dffrnt story. He is friends with the russians and that simply means he is not even against what is happening.
Deon Pretorius 2014-09-03 08:09:52 AM
What did they say? Its not OK for a big country to take over a small one. What about Irak? They took a country that was kept in check by a mad man, and turned it into a mad house. I hate to harp on the past, but this is the result of American policies. "It is only when a mosquito lands on your balls, that you realize that there is always a way to solve problems that is not violent."