Putin problem: Tensions hang over trip

Putin problem: Tensions hang over trip
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President Obama will look to boost the fledgling government in Ukraine as he travels to Europe this week, but a series of events with Russian President Vladimir PutinVladimir Vladimirovich PutinActing U.S. ambassador to Ukraine: Embassy families evacuated out of 'abundance of caution' Overnight Energy & Environment — 'Forever chemical' suits face time crunch US shipment of military equipment, munitions arrives in Ukraine MORE are certain to renew questions about the president's handling of the crisis in the region.

Obama will arrive in Warsaw on Tuesday, where he'll look to reassure Polish leaders rattled by Russia's incursion into neighboring Ukraine. 

While there, Obama will meet with American airmen dispatched to a Polish air force base as a sign of support following the Russian annexation of Crimea. The president and Polish leaders will also meet with other Eastern European leaders, including representatives from Bulgaria, Croatia, the Czech Republic, Estonia, Hungary, Latvia, Lithuania, Romania, and Slovakia.


"This trip to Europe comes at a very important time in the trans-Atlantic relationship, as we seek to reaffirm our commitments to our European allies, deepen our cooperation with our Europeans allies and pursue an agenda that can shore up both the security and economic foundations of the trans-Atlantic partnership," White House deputy national security adviser Ben Rhodes said.

While in Poland, Obama plans to give an address marking the 25th anniversary of the country's first post-communist elections.

On Wednesday, Obama will meet for the first time with newly elected Ukrainian President Petro Poroshenko. The White House hopes the billionaire chocolate magnate can help calm tensions in Ukraine, and negotiate greater autonomy for regions where pro-Russian separatists have seized government buildings and roads.

"We have a broad agenda to work with them to stabilize the economy, to provide significant assistance as they seek to re-establish stability and growth within Ukraine, and also of course to support their efforts to reduce tensions," Rhodes said.

Later in the week, Obama will travel to Brussels for a summit of the Group of Seven. That meeting was originally slated for Sochi, but Russia was expelled from the group of the world's leading economies as punishment for its actions in Ukraine.

In Brussels, leaders are expected to discuss security and energy issues. Spooked by Russia's actions, European nations have been eager to increase their own natural gas development to decrease reliance on Moscow.

EU Ambassador João Vale de Almeida said that the G-7 are "solidly united" on the issues they will tackle during the meetings, which include Ukraine and Russia. 

"We want to show a very strong unity on our side," he said. 

The U.S. and EU have stayed the course on their handling of Russia's takeover of Crimea, and their tactics have included leveling sanctions. 

Obama will conclude his trip with a visit to Normandy to mark the 70th anniversary of D-Day. Putin is also expected to attend the tribute, setting up a potentially awkward interaction. Obama and Putin have traded barbs over the Kremlin's involvement in Ukraine, the ongoing civil war in Syria, and Moscow's decision to grant National Security Agency leaker Edward Snowden asylum.

The White House said that it was not anticipating any type of formal meeting between Obama and Putin, although the pair will jointly attend the ceremony and a leaders' lunch scheduled for Friday.

"Russia has an opportunity here to take the opportunity of this incoming government, to reduce the tensions that have caused such a destabilization in human suffering inside of Ukraine," Rhodes said. "However, we have not yet seen Russia take the steps that are necessary to reduce those tensions."

Russia appears to have begun drawing down troops from its shared border with Ukraine, in response to complaints from European neighbors nervous about their presence.

But tensions spiked last week when separatists shot down a Ukrainian military helicopter, killing 14 people. Pro-Russian militants are also suspected of kidnapping four international monitors dispatched by the Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe, at the invitation of the Ukranian government. The U.S. has called for their release.

Earlier Friday, Poroshenko vowed he would punish the perpetrators of the attack against the military helicopter.

"While mourning with rest of the Ukraine, I give my condolences to the families and loved ones of the fallen heroes," he said on a post to his Facebook page. "Crimes of the bandits will not be left unpunished."