Obama promises to defend Poland against Russia as Reid urges caution about action

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Polish news site is reporting that President Obama in a telephone call on Sunday to Polish President Bronislaw Komorowski “assured him ‘unequivocally as to Poland’s security, knowing that Poland is not only a neighbor of Ukraine but Russia as well.’

Speaking Monday after a meeting of Poland’s Nations Security Council – with Poland’s Defense Minister, Foreign Minister, Prime Minister and opposition party leaders in attendance – Komorowski informed the media that he had directed Foreign Minister Radoslaw Sikorski to “request NATO consultations under Article 4 of the alliance’s founding treaty.”

Article 4 of the North Atlantic Treaty that was signed on April 4th 1949 and states that “The Parties will consult together whenever, in the opinion of any of them, the territorial integrity, political independence or security of any of the Parties is threatened.” Poland, which shares a border with Russia and is a recent addition to NATO, is concerned that, while Ukraine is not a member of NATO so it is not party to the principle of mutual defense, the current aggressive posturing by Russia may be a precursor to more belligerent actions by Moscow. Komorowski also raised the case for actions being taken against Russia saying, “Poland should present the case for a very firm stance on sanctions, both political and economic.”

This report of  “unequivocal” assurance by President Obama would appear at odds with his compatriot, Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid. Reid urged caution caution in dealing with Russia in an interview today with Politico and that “Congress should let the situation play out for “a while” before trying to impose any new sanctions on Russia.”

“The most important thing is for us – the United States – to make sure that we don’t go off without the European community,” Reid continued.

Europe has been thrown in to turmoil after the recent occupation of the Crimea by Russian troops after the Russian leaning Ukrainian president Viktor Yanukovich was ousted by protesters who have been seeking greater ties to the European Union.

The invasion of sovereign Ukrainian territory by Russian President Vladimir Putin has been roundly condemned by European leaders with many, including the United Kingdom voicing support for the new acting president, Olexandr Turchinov.

Pressure has been building in Washington DC for a response as the game of geopolitical brinksmanship has been ratcheted up. The Ukrainian defense ministry says its sovereign airspace was violated Sunday night by two Russian fighter jets and that it deployed an interceptor as a response to what it called “provocative actions.”

President Obama made a statement on Friday evening regarding the invasion by Russian forces, however, it was roundly criticized by many commentators as being lackluster. 

Russia’s Black Sea Fleet commander Alexander Vitko has announced a deadline of Tuesday 5.A.M Kiev time (Monday 10 P.M. EST)  for the surrender of all Ukrainian forces in the Crimea. Russia’s state controlled news agency Interfax reported the statement “[i]f they do not surrender before 5 am tomorrow, a real assault will be started against units and divisions of the armed forces across Crimea.” However, Interfax also reported a Russian defense official referring to the ultimatum as “total nonsense.”

Secretary of State John Kerry is traveling to Kiev tonight as  NATO allies seek a united front against the overt displays of Russian provocation. A statement by the Russian foreign ministry has decried NATO’s actions saying that they “will not help stabilise” the Ukrainian locality.

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