7:54 am - Thursday November 5, 2015

Obama to meet Ukraine’s new leader ahead of Putin encounter

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WARSAW: US President Barack Obama meets Ukraine president-elect Petro Poroshenko on Wednesday, in a show of US support for Ukraine’s right to chart its own future, before an encounter with Russia’s Vladimir Putin.

Obama will sit down with Poroshenko in Warsaw, during a trip designed to assuage security concerns in eastern Europe following Russia’s annexation of Crimea and what Washington says is an effort to destabilize Ukraine.

The talks on day two of his European tour will come after the president met central and eastern European leaders in Warsaw and before he heads to a G7 summit in Belgium which is designed to cement Western policy towards Russia.

Obama will come face-to-face with Putin during 70th anniversary commemorations of the D-Day landings in Normandy, France on Friday.

The leaders of Britain, France and Germany will go a step further and hold one-on-one talks with Putin.

The accelerating diplomacy over Ukraine comes as a seven-week pro-Russian insurgency in Ukraine’s eastern rust belt grows only more violent after Poroshenko swept to power in a May 25 presidential ballot.

Hundreds of separatist gunmen on Monday attacked a Ukrainian border guard service camp in the region of Lugansk on the border with Russia.

Obama said Tuesday that US commitment to eastern European security was absolute.

“Our commitment to Poland’s security as well as the security of our allies in central and eastern Europe is a cornerstone of our own security and it is sacrosanct,” Obama said after inspecting a joint unit of Polish and US F-16 pilots. He proposed a “European Reassurance Initiative” of up to $1 billion (730 million euros) to finance extra US troop and military deployments to “new allies” in Europe.

‘Clear commitment’ to Ukraine

Obama will meet Poroshenko as the confectionery tycoon faces the unenviable task of keeping his economically ravaged country from slipping into an all-out civil war that Washington blames Moscow for orchestrating.

“Events in Ukraine have unfortunately unleashed forces that we had all hoped had been put away, were behind us,” US Secretary of State John Kerry said in Warsaw.

In eastern Ukraine, rebels pelted the border guard camp with mortar fire and deployed snipers on rooftops surrounding the base in a day-long battle that marked one of their most brazen offensives of the campaign.

Ukraine’s military reported no fatalities but said they had killed five rebels.

A defence spokesman said two Ukrainian soldiers were killed and 42 wounded in new violence that swept the neighbouring coal mining province of Donetsk on Tuesday.

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