WH to Putin: Don't mess with the Baltics

President Obama's trip to Europe early next week is designed to warn Russian President Vladimir Putin against "messing around" with the Baltic States, the White House said Friday.

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Obama will be headed to Tallinn on Tuesday, where he's scheduled to huddle with the leaders of Estonia, Latvia and Lithuania amid deepening concerns that Russia could expand its campaign of repeated incursions into Ukraine.

The meeting with the Baltic members of NATO comes ahead of a full summit of the security alliance later in the week in Wales.

"Part of the message that the president will be sending is, we stand with you," said Charles Kupchan, the administration's senior director for European Affairs. "Article Five constitutes an ironclad guarantee of your security. Russia, don't even think about messing around in Estonia or in any of the Baltic areas in the same way that you have been messing around in Ukraine."

NATO's Article Five obligates all members of the alliance to come to the defense of any member country which that is targeted. Ukraine is not a member of the organization, but nearby countries have worried that Russian troop movements into that country's southeastern provinces could preclude an expanded military offensive targeting ethnically Russian areas within their own countries.

"In this new world that we live in, NATO or individual countries may be facing not armored columns coming across their border, which you can usually see in advance, but guys coming across in masks — you don’t know who they are, what we could call hybrid warfare or asymmetric warfare, and that requires a very different kind of military response than NATO has traditionally been focused on," Kupchan said. "So I think one of the issues that we hope to see progress on at the summit is creating forces within NATO that are able to respond."

On Thursday, Obama warned that Russia faced "more costs and consequences" amid reports that Russian troops and tanks had entered Ukraine. 

"Russia has deliberately and repeatedly violated the sovereignty and territorial integrity of Ukraine, and the new images of Russian forces inside Ukraine make that plain for the world to see," Obama said.