WHITE HOUSE — President Obama heads to Europe next week on a visit that will focus on Russian actions in Ukraine.
First stop for the president is Poland, which wants more U.S. reassurances beyond those brought by a small contingent of American troops who deployed there in April.
President Obama has compared Russia's actions in Ukraine to the Cold War, when Soviet tanks rolled into eastern Europe. Today, he said, U.S. leadership is key.
“Our ability to shape world opinion helped isolate Russia right away. Because of American leadership, the world immediately condemned Russian actions. Europe and the G7 joined us to impose sanctions. NATO reinforced our commitment to Eastern European allies," said President Obama.
But the size of that commitment is the issue. Poland last month welcomed 150 U.S. troops - far below the 10,000 requested by Poland's defense minister.
"It is of concern what we can see happening in the east of Ukraine: a situation where, in the name of the protection of non-threatened interests of the rights of the minority, a brutal intervention is taking place. And it is true that we are concerned by that and we really count on the activity of the United States and the whole international community," said Poland's Defense Minister Tomasz Siemoniak.
History plays a big role in how Poland views Ukraine, says Christopher Hill, a former U.S. Ambassador to Poland, who spoke to VOA via Skype.
“Poles have understood, and they often say, that Russia without Ukraine is just Russia, but Russia with Ukraine is back to being the Soviet Union. So, the Poles have a real interest in Ukraine's success and viability," said Hill.
At one point during the trip, Obama is to meet with Ukraine's president-elect.
President Obama will go to Brussels for a G-7 summit of leaders from industrialized democracies, to be held in place of the G-8 meeting that was scheduled in the Russian resort of Sochi before Russia was expelled for its actions in Ukraine.
Final stop is Normandy, where the U.S. leader will commemorate the 70th anniversary of D-Day and the start of the allies' liberation of Europe from Nazi occupation. Russian President Vladimir Putin will also be there, but no meeting is scheduled between the two men.