US President Barack Obama yesterday unveiled a US$1 billion security plan for eastern Europe aimed at allaying fears over a resurgent Kremlin and the escalating pro-Russian uprising in ex-Soviet Ukraine.
Obama launched a major tour of Europe in Warsaw where he will attend celebrations of the 25th anniversary of Poland's first free elections that put both the country and the rest of eastern Europe on a path out of Moscow's orbit and towards democracy and growing prosperity.
But the ceremony has been haunted by those very countries' fears of the Kremlin reasserting its cold war-era grip over a large swathe of Europe following its seizure of Ukraine's Crimean Peninsula in March.
"Our commitment to Poland's security as well as the security of our allies in central and eastern Europe is a cornerstone of our own security and it is sacrosanct," Obama said after inspecting a joint unit of US and Polish F-16 pilots.
He then proposed an initiative of up to US$1 billion to finance extra US troop and military deployments to "new allies" in eastern Europe. The "European Reassurance Initiative" - an historic plan that must be approved by Congress - would also build the capacity of non-Nato states such as Ukraine and Georgia to work with the United States and the Western alliance and build their own defences.
Obama's first pivotal encounter will come today when he meets Ukraine's president-elect Petro Poroshenko with its new pro-Western leadership grasping for protection from Washington.
The seven-week pro-Russian insurgency in eastern Ukraine grew only more violent after Poroshenko swept to power in a May 25 presidential ballot on a promise to quickly end fighting and save the nation of 46 million from economic collapse.
Hundreds of separatist gunmen staged one of their biggest offensives to date on Monday by attacking a Ukrainian border guard service camp in the Russian border region of Lugansk.
Ukraine's military reported suffering no fatalities and killing five rebels in a day-long battle. But Lugansk's self-declared prime minister, Vasyl Nikitin, said at least three civilians and the separatist administration's top health official had died.
Washington's commitment to Ukraine will be reinforced when US Vice-President Joe Biden travels to Kiev on Saturday to attend Poroshenko's swearing-in as the fifth post-Soviet president of the country.
Obama's tour takes in the Group of Seven summit in Brussels tomorrow that replaces a G8 meeting that Putin was due to host but which world leaders decided to boycott. But the most sensitive part of Obama's trip will come on Friday when he attends the 70th anniversary commemoration of D-Day in Normandy to which Putin was invited as well.