And yet as we gather here today, we know that this vision is threatened by Russia’s aggression against Ukraine. It is a brazen assault on the territorial integrity of Ukraine, a sovereign and independent European nation. It challenges that most basic of principles of our international system, that borders cannot be redrawn at the barrel of a gun, that nations have the right to determine their own future. It undermines an international order where the rights of peoples and nations are upheld and can’t simply be taken away by brute force. This is what’s at stake in Ukraine. This is why we stand with the people of Ukraine today. (Applause.)
Now, let’s put to rest once and for all the distortions or outdated thinking that has caused this crisis. Our NATO alliance is not aimed against any other nation. We’re an alliance of democracies dedicated to our own collective defense. Countries like Estonia and Latvia and Lithuania are not post-Soviet territory. You’re sovereign and independent nations with a right to make your own decisions. No other nation gets to veto your security decisions.
The protests in Ukraine on the Maidan were not led by neo-Nazis of fascists. They were led by ordinary Ukrainians, men and women, young and old who were fed up with a corrupt regime and who wanted to share in the progress and prosperity that they see in the rest of Europe. And they did not engage in an armed seizure of power.
After an agreement was brokered for constitutional reform, the former president then abandoned his office, and parliament endorsed new elections, so that today Ukrainians have a new democratically elected president. And I look forward to welcoming President Poroshenko to the Oval Office this month. He was chosen by the people of Ukraine. It was not the government of Kiev that destabilized eastern Ukraine. It’s been the pro-Russian separatists who are encouraged by Russia, financed by Russia, trained by Russia, supplied by Russia and armed by Russia. And the Russian forces that have now moved into Ukraine are not on a humanitarian or peacekeeping mission. They are Russian combat forces with Russian weapons in Russian tanks.
Now, these are the facts. They are provable. They’re not subject to dispute. As a result of state-run propaganda, many Russians have become convinced that the actions taken by their government is strengthening Russia. But reaching back to the days of the czars, trying to reclaim lands lost in the 19th century is surely not the way to secure Russia’s greatness in the 21st century. (Applause.) It only shows that unrestrained nationalism is the last refuge of those who cannot or will not deliver real progress and opportunity for their own people at home.
Let’s also be clear where we stand. Just as we refuse to accept smaller European nations being dominated by bigger neighbors in the last century, we reject any talk of spheres of influence today. (Applause.) And just as we never accepted the occupation and illegal annexation of the Baltic nations, we will not accept Russia’s occupation and illegal annexation of Crimea or any part of Ukraine. (Applause.)
As free peoples, as an alliance, we will stand firm and united to meet the test of this moment, and here’s how.
First we will defend our NATO allies, and that means every ally. In this alliance there are no old members or new members, no junior partners or senior partners. They’re just allies, pure and simple, and we will defend the territorial integrity of every single ally.
Today more NATO aircraft patrol the skies of the Baltics. More American forces are on the ground training and rotating through each of the Baltic states. More NATO ships patrol the Black Sea.
Tonight I depart for the NATO summit in Wales, and I believe our alliance should extend these defensive measures for as long as necessary, because the defense of Tallinn and Riga and Vilnius is just as important as the defense of Berlin and Paris and London. (Applause.)
During the long Soviet occupation, the great Estonian poet Marie Under wrote a poem in which she cried to the world, “Who’ll come to help? Right here, at present, now!” And I say to the people of Estonia and the people of the Baltics, today we are bound by our treaty alliance. We have a solemn duty to each other. Article 5 is crystal clear. An attack on one is an attack on all. So if, in such a moment, you ever ask again, who’ll come to help, you’ll know the answer: the NATO alliance, including the armed forces of the United States of America, right here, present, now. (Applause.)
We’ll be here for Estonia. We will be here for Latvia. We will be here for Lithuania. You lost your independence once before. With NATO, you will never lose it again. (Applause.)
Second, and in addition to the measures we’ve already taken, the United States is working to bolster the security of our NATO allies and further increase America’s military presence in Europe. The new initiative I proposed in Warsaw this spring includes several elements, and we’re working with Congress to get it done. Here in the Baltics, it would mean positioning more American equipment, so it’s ready if needed. It would mean more training and exercises between our militaries. And it would mean more U.S. forces, including American boots on the ground, continuously rotating through Estonia and Latvia and Lithuania.
Third, NATO forces need the ability to deploy even faster in times of crisis.
Now this week our alliance must unite around a new plan to enhance our readiness, and that means we need to step up our defense planning so we’re fully prepared for any threat to any ally. It also means we need to have the infrastructure and facilities that can receive rapid reinforcements, including here in the Baltics. We need to enhance NATO’s rapid response force so it can deploy even more quickly and not just react to threats but also deter them.
And even as we meet conventional threats, we need to face other challenges, and that includes propaganda campaigns that try to whip up fears and divide people from one another. We reject the idea that people cannot live and thrive together just because they have different backgrounds or speak a different language. And the best antidotes to such distorted thinking are the values that define us. Not just in the Baltics but throughout Europe, we must acknowledge the inherent dignity and human rights of every person, because our democracies cannot truly succeed until we root out bias and prejudice, both from our institutions and from our hearts. We have to uphold a free press and freedom of speech because in the end lies and misinformation are no match for the truth. We have to embrace open and inclusive societies because our countries are more successful and more prosperous when we welcome the talents of all our people, including minorities. That’s part of the work that we must do. (Applause.) That’s the example we must set.
Fourth, even as we keep our countries strong at home, we need to keep our alliance strong for the future. And that means investing in the capabilities, like intelligence and surveillance and reconnaissance and missile defense. And here in Europe, nations need to do more to spur the growth and prosperity that sustains our alliance. To its great credit, Estonia stands out as an ally that contributes its full share — it’s full 2 percent of GDP to the defense of our alliance. And Latvia and Lithuania have pledged to do the same. So this week — (applause). That’s worth applause. (Applause.) So this week’s summit is the moment for every NATO nation to step up and commit to meeting its responsibilities to our alliance. Estonia does it. Every ally must do it.
Fifth, we must continue to stand united against Russia’s aggression in Ukraine. (Applause.) Keep in mind that repeatedly President Putin has ignored the opportunity to resolve the crisis in Ukraine diplomatically. The United States, the European Union, our partners around the world have all said we prefer a diplomatic solution. But in light of Russia’s unwillingness to seize that opportunity, we have come together to impose major sanctions on Russia for its actions.
And make no mistake, Russia is paying a price. Capital is fleeing. Foreign investment is plummeting because investors know that today’s Russia is a bad bet given its behavior. The Russian economy has slipped into recession. Its energy production, which is the engine of the Russian economy, is expected to drop. Its credit rating is near junk status. The ruble just fell to an all-time low. In short, Russia’s actions in Ukraine are weakening Russia. Russia’s actions are hurting the Russian people.
And it doesn’t have to be this way. We have no interest in weakening Russia. It’s a nation with a rich history and a remarkable people. We do not seek out confrontation with Russia. Over the past two decades, the United States has gone to great lengths to welcome Russia into the community of nations and to encourage its economic success. We welcome a Russia that is strong and growing and contributes to international security and peace and that resolves disputes peacefully with diplomacy.
And in contrast to Russia’s isolation and economic woes today, that path, which would include a stable and prosperous Ukraine whose sovereignty is respected, would also ultimately result in greater success and opportunity and respect for Russia. That path remains available to Russia. That path will deliver truer progress for the Russian people. But it’s a path that starts by Russia changing course and leaving Ukraine so that Ukrainians can make their own decisions. And I have no doubt that one of their decisions would be to have strong relations with not just Europe, but also with Russia. But it has to be freely chosen.
And this brings me to the final area where our nations have to come together: in our steadfast support for those who reach for their freedom. And yes, that includes the people of Ukraine. And few understand this better than the Baltic peoples. You know from bitter experience that we can never take our security and liberties for granted. We want Ukrainians to be independent and strong and able to make their own choices free from fear and intimidation because the more countries are free and strong and free from intimidation, the more secure our own liberties are. So the United States will continue to help Ukraine reform to escape a legacy of corruption and build democratic institutions, to grow its economy and, like other European nations, diversify its energy sources because no country should ever be held hostage to another nation that wields energy like a weapon. (Applause.)
We’ll continue to offer training and assistance to help the Ukrainian military grow stronger as they defend their country. And since ultimately, there is no military solution to this crisis, we will continue to support President Poroshenko’s efforts to achieve peace because like all independent nations, Ukraine must be free to decide its own destiny. And this week NATO must send an unmistakable message in support of Ukraine as well. Our alliance has had a partnership with Ukraine for more than 20 years. Ukrainian forces have served with distinction in NATO operations in the Balkans, in Afghanistan. So in Wales, we’ll meet as an alliance with President Poroshenko to show that our 28 nations are united in support of Ukraine’s sovereignty and right to defend its territory.
Now, Ukraine needs more than words. NATO needs to make concrete commitments to help Ukraine modernize and strengthen its security forces. And by the way, we have to do more to help other NATO partners, including Georgia and Moldova, strengthen their defenses as well. (Applause.) And we must reaffirm the principle that has always guided our alliance. For countries that meet our standards and that can make meaningful contributions to allied security, the door to NATO membership will remain open. So this is a moment of testing. The actions of the separatists in Ukraine and Russia evoke dark tactics from Europe’s past that ought to be consigned to a distant history — masked men storming buildings, soldiers without flags slipping across the border, violence sending families fleeing and killing thousands, including nearly 300 innocent men, women and children from all across Europe and around the world when that airliner was shot out of the sky.
In the face of violence that seems intractable and suffering that is so senseless, it is easy to grow cynical and I think tempting to give in to the notion that peace and security may be beyond our grasp. But I say to all of you here today, especially the young people, do not give in to that cynicism. Do not lose the idealism and optimism that is the root of all great change. (Applause.) Don’t ever lose the faith that says if we want it, if we are willing to work for it, if we stand together, the future can be different. Tomorrow can be better. After all, the only reason we’re here today in a free and democratic Estonia is because the Estonian people never gave up. You never gave up when the Red Army came in from the east or when the Nazis came in from the West. You never gave up when the Soviets came back or when they sent your best and brightest to the gulag, never to return. You never gave up through a long occupation that tried to break your spirit and crush your culture. Their tanks were no equal to the moral power of your voices united in song. Their walls were no match for the strength of your people united in that unbreakable chain.
And like the Poles, and Hungarians, the Czechs, and the Slovaks, and the East Germans on top of that wall, you were stronger and you always believed one day, no matter what, we will win. Today your example, your victory gives hope to people all over the world. Yes, there will be setbacks and there will be frustrations and there will be moments of doubt and moments of despair. The currents of history ebb and flow. But over time, they flow toward freedom – more people in every corner of the earth standing up and reaching to claim those rights that are universal, and that’s why, in the end, our ideals are stronger, and that’s why, in the end, our ideals will win. Dignity will win, because every human being is born equal, with free will and inalienable rights, and any regime or system of government that tries to deny these rights will ultimately fail and countries that uphold them will only grow stronger. Justice will win, because might does not make right. And the only path to lasting peace is when people know that their dignity will be respected and that their rights will be upheld. And citizens, like nations, will never settle for a world where the big are allowed to bully the small. Sooner or later, they fight back. (Applause.) Democracy will win, because a government’s legitimacy can only come from citizens. Because in this age of information and empowerment, people want more control over their lives, not less. And because more than any other form of government ever devised, only democracy, rooted in the sanctity of the individual, can deliver real progress. And freedom will win – not because it’s inevitable, not because it is ordained, but because these basic human yearnings for dignity and justice and democracy do not go away. They can be suppressed, at times they can be silenced, but they burn in every human heart, in a place where no regime can ever reach, a light that no army can ever extinguish. And so long as free peoples summon the confidence and the courage and the will to defend the values that we cherish, then freedom will always be stronger and our ideas will always prevail, no matter what.
Thank you, and long live our great alliance. Thank you very much. (Applause.) Thank you.