President Obama this week will travel to Poland, Belgium and France in an attempt to convince allies that the U.S. is fully committed to deterring Russian aggression in Eastern Europe, a trip that comes as the president tries to better articulate his foreign policy vision to a skeptical audience both at home and abroad.
Obama's cross-Atlantic trek comes in the wake of elections in Ukraine and Russian President Vladimir Putin shifting troops away from the Ukrainian border. Still, U.S. allies are on edge over Putin's intentions in Eastern Europe, and countries bordering Russia will push the White House for a more forceful response now that the Kremlin has annexed Crimea.
In a speech at West Point last week, Obama outlined his foreign policy blueprint, saying he would avoid messy foreign entanglements whenever possible. His remarks were meant to hit back at GOP criticisms that he has become too passive and isolationist in his approach to events on the world stage.
And Obama will soon get the chance to address similar concerns from European partners.
Obama on Tuesday will travel to Poland to meet with Polish President Bronislaw Komorowski in Warsaw and on Wednesday will hold discussions with Ukrainian President-elect Petro Poroshenko.
The Obama administration insists that it could impose additional economic sanctions against Russia, but most analysts doubt the likelihood of stiffer penalties barring some sort of escalation by the Kremlin.
Obama will discuss potential actions against Russia with the Group of Seven nations in Brussels, Belgium, on Thursday — a meeting organized after the U.S. backed out of talks scheduled for Sochi, Russia, punishment for the Kremlin’s annexation of Crimea.
Though Obama and Putin have no one-on-one meetings planned, the two leaders could have some awkward interactions. The presidents will both attend events in Normandy, France, on Friday to commemorate the 70th anniversary of D-Day.
Even with Obama focused primarily on how to deal with Russia, he could face questions about his decision to swap five Guantanamo Bay detainees for U.S. Sgt. Bowe Bergdahl, the last remaining American prisoner of war in Afghanistan. Republicans said Obama set a dangerous precedent in negotiating with terrorists and ignored the law by not giving lawmakers time to review the transfer of prisoners from Gitmo.
Before departing Washington, Obama will also participate in a conference call with the American Lung Association to champion new Environmental Protection Agency rules being unveiled Monday. The EPA is expected to call for a 30 percent cut in carbon emissions from power plants by the year 2030, a highly controversial regulation that will serve as the centerpiece of the president's environmental agenda.