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Obama and Putin may "cross paths" during D-Day commemorations

Obama is in Poland and announced a expansion of US military presence in Europe.

Obama Poland The US and Polish Presidents spoke on front of four F-16 fighter jets. AP / Press Association Images AP / Press Association Images / Press Association Images

THE UNITED STATES is preparing to boost its military presence in Europe and at a cost of up to $1 billion as tensions in the region simmer over Russia’s aggressive actions in Ukraine.

Standing with Polish President Bronislaw Komorowski, President Barack Obama said the US plans to send more military equipment and rotate additional American troops into the region. He called on lawmakers back in Washington to provide the funding to sustain the effort.

“Today, I’m announcing a new initiative to bolster the support of our NATO allies here in Europe,” Obama said at Warsaw’s Belweder Palace. “Under this effort, and with the support of Congress, the United States will preposition more equipment in Europe.”

If approved, the funding will be used to increase military exercises and training missions on the continent, as well as rotations of air and ground forces, the White House said.

Officials said Obama was also seeking to ramp up US Navy participation in NATO deployments in the Black and Baltic Seas, plus working to boost the military capacity of non-NATO countries that sit on Russia’s border, including Ukraine, Georgia and Moldova.

Obama’s announcement came at the start of a three-country swing through Europe steeped in both historical significance and regional anxiety over the crisis in Ukraine.

Obama Poland The President's also met at the Belweder Palace in Warsaw. AP / Press Association Images AP / Press Association Images / Press Association Images

A day before his first face-to-face encounter with Ukraine’s newly elected president, Petro Poroshenko, Obama said he wants both the US and Ukraine to have good relations with Russia. But in a warning to Moscow, Obama said the US has contingency plans to protect every member of NATO, and has been steadily developing those plans in recent years.

“Our contingency plans are not just pieces of paper on a shelf,” Obama said, adding that the US must and does have the ability to put those plans into effect if needed.

At the same time, he called on other NATO members to step up by increasing their own role in the alliance’s collective defence, even as he acknowledged that the US has greater capabilities to bear that burden than its smaller allies.

“Everyone has the capacity to do their fair share, to do a proportional amount to make sure we have the resources, the planning, the integration, the training in order to be effective,” Obama said.

To that end, Komorowski announced that Poland intends to increase its own defence budget, up to 2 per cent of the nation’s GDP. “It means it’s a very tangible, very clear engagement,” Komorowski said through a translator.

Poland Obama Obama and Putin have no official engagements but may 'cross paths'. Charles Dharapak Charles Dharapak

The cautionary notes from Obama and Komorowski came just a few days before a potential encounter between Obama and Russian President Vladimir Putin, who also planned to be in France for the 70th anniversary of the D-Day invasion that eventually led to Allied victory in World War II.

Obama and Putin haven’t met in person since the crisis began and have no meetings together scheduled, but White House officials haven’t ruled out that they could cross paths.

Calling his relationship with Putin “businesslike,” Obama said it’s possible for the U.S. to rebuilt trust with Putin, but that doing so would take time and require Putin to use his influence to calm unrest in eastern Ukraine.

“We are interested in good relations with Russia. We are not interested in threatening Russia,” Obama said.

Obama’s visit to Warsaw coincides with the 25th anniversary of Poland emerging from communism. Obama also planned to meet with Group of 7 leaders in Brussels before heading to France to mark the D-Day anniversary.

Later Tuesday, Obama and Komorowski planned to hold discussions on central European security with leaders from Bulgaria, the Czech Republic, Estonia, Croatia, Hungary, Latvia, Lithuania, Romania and Slovenia.
U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry was joining Obama for many of his events in Warsaw. During a separate meeting Tuesday with Poland’s foreign minister, Kerry said the crisis in Ukraine presents “a new moment of challenge for all of us.”

“Events in Ukraine have unfortunately unleashed forces that we had all hoped had been put away, were behind us, and so it requires new vigilance and it requires clear commitment,” Kerry said.

Read: Irish funded operation saves the lives of 20 children in Ukraine >

Read: Second European team of monitors reported missing in eastern Ukraine >

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