Pete Souza/The White House(WASHINGTON) — President Obama embarks Monday night on his second whirlwind trip to Europe this year, visiting three countries in four days.
The president will land in Warsaw, Poland, Tuesday morning where he will help celebrate the 25th anniversary of the solidarity movement. He then heads to Brussels for a G7 summit on Wednesday. He’ll dine privately with French President François Hollande in Paris on Thursday and commemorate the 70th anniversary of D-Day in Normandy on Friday — all while Russian President Vladimir Putin is nearby.
Here are five things to watch on Obama’s four-day, three-country tour of Europe:
1. ALL EYES ON UKRAINE
The crisis in Ukraine will dominate Obama’s time in Europe one week after the country held successful national elections. Obama will seek to offer reassurances to eastern European countries that the U.S. is committed to maintaining the region’s security. He’ll look to do so in his first stop in Warsaw, a western neighbor to Ukraine. The president is slated to meet there with central and eastern European leaders, including Ukraine’s newly-elected president, Petro Poroshenko.
“This is an important time for President Obama to affirm directly to President-elect Poroshenko our commitment to the people of Ukraine,” Deputy National Security Advisor Ben Rhodes said ahead of Wednesday’s meeting. “We’ve admired his commitment to pursue dialogue and to aim to reduce tensions and put Ukraine on a positive path. And in these days before his inauguration, this will be an important time for the President to check in directly and review his agenda.”
While in Warsaw, Obama will give a speech at a ceremony honoring the 25th Anniversary of the first free, post-Communist elections in Poland, which the administration says “sends an important message to people in Ukraine.”
“It’s a very powerful moment to both look back at the history of how Polish democracy was won, but also look at the current moment and the need for the United States and Europe to stand together on behalf of the security of Eastern Europe, and to stand in support of democratic values and all of those who would reach for democratic values, as we’ve seen so powerfully in Ukraine these last several months,” Rhodes said.
On Wednesday and Thursday, Ukraine will also be high on the agenda at the G7 Summit along with discussions on energy, climate and trade.
2. DANCING AROUND PUTIN
Obama will meet with his G7 partners in Brussels after the leaders cancelled their participation in the G8, which was supposed to be held in Sochi, Russia. The move was a direct snub of Putin after Russian aggression in Ukraine.
Obama and Putin are scheduled to be in Europe at the same time, raising the question of whether the two will exchange words face-to-face for the first time since the crisis in Ukraine began.
Though he’s excluded from the meeting in Brussels, Putin will get some one-on-one time with Hollande in Paris Thursday, the same day Obama is set to dine privately with the French president.
The White House says there is no planned bilateral meeting between Obama and Putin, but the two leaders could cross paths during D-Day celebrations on Friday. Both are scheduled to attend a luncheon for leaders and an international ceremony commemorating D-Day at Sword Beach.
“Clearly, they will be in the same place, attending the leaders’ lunch and then the ceremony, so they will certainly have cause to interact in that context,” Rhodes said.
3. REMEMBERING D-DAY
Obama’s trip will culminate with a stop at Normandy to celebrate the 70th anniversary of D-Day. The president, who participated in the 65th anniversary festivities in 2009, will speak at the American cemetery in Normandy at a celebration honoring “the ultimate manifestation of the allies working together on behalf of freedom.”
While honoring the legacy of the World War II veterans, Obama will tie the valiant efforts of those soldiers to the men and women serving in the military today as part of the “9/11 generation.”
“He will aim to connect the service of that D-Day generation with the service of the 9/11 generation today,” Rhodes said. “We have a generation since 9/11 that has equated itself equally in terms of their commitment to serve in a time of war and stand up for those values, and that without that type of service, those values cannot endure.”
“It takes the United States, it takes our leadership, and it takes our alliances to secure the freedoms that we pay tribute to at anniversaries like this,” he said.
4. FLEXING FOREIGN POLICY MUSCLE
Obama’s trip to Europe comes at a time of renewed focus on foreign policy issues. Last week, the president outlined his foreign policy vision for the final two years of his presidency, including a plan to remove all troops from Afghanistan by 2016, and stressed that diplomacy, not full scale military operations, should be key in future international efforts.
But the president heads to Poland as one of its famous former leaders — former President Lech Walesa — wants to share some tough words with him, saying Obama has failed as a world leader.
5. THE BERGDAHL FACTOR
Obama travels to Europe just after the administration negotiated the release of Army Sgt. Bowe Bergdahl, who was held captive by the Taliban for five years.
The administration sees Bergdahl’s release as a major win, but criticism has poured in from Republican lawmakers who see the exchange of five Guantanamo detainees for Bergdahl as a risk to U.S. security. While the president is abroad, lawmakers stateside could continue lobbing these critiques.
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