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President Obama's Remarks on Europe

Speaker: Barack Obama
Published March 26, 2014

President Barack Obama spoke at the Palais Des Beaux Arts in Brussels on March 26, 2014. He spoke about the history of formation of democracies in Europe and the importance of maintaining European regional security and the sovereignty of individual countries. President Obama argued for the United States and other countries to support Ukraine and to isolate the Russian government after Russia's annexation of Crimea.

Excerpt (via Washington Post):

So I come here today to insist that we must never take for granted the progress that has been won here in Europe, and advanced around the world. Because the contest of ideas continues for your generation. And that is what's at stake in Ukraine today. Russia's leadership is challenging truths that only a few weeks ago seemed self-evident: that in the 21st century, the borders of Europe cannot be redrawn with force; that international law matters; and that people and nations can make their own decisions about their future.

To be honest, if we defined our interests narrowly, with a cold-hearted calculus, we might decide to look the other way. Our economy is not deeply integrated with Ukraine's. Our people and our homeland face no direct threat from the invasion of Crimea. Our own borders are not threatened by Russia's annexation. But that kind of casual indifference would ignore the lessons that are written in the cemeteries of this continent. It would allow the old way of doing things to gain a foothold in this young century. And that message would be heard – not just in Europe –but in Asia and the Americas; in Africa and the Middle East.

Moreover, the consequences that would arise from complacency are not abstract; they impact the lives of real people – men and women just like us. Just look at the young people of Ukraine, who were determined to take back their future from a government rotted by corruption; the portraits of the fallen shot by snipers; the visitors who pay their respects at the Maidan. There was the university student, wrapped in the Ukrainian flag, expressing her hope that, "every country should live by the law." A post graduate student, speaking of her fellow protestors, said, "I want these people who are here to have dignity." Imagine, for a moment, that you are the young woman who said, "there are some things that fear, police sticks and tear gas can't destroy."

We have never met these people, but we know them. Their voices echo calls for human dignity that rang out in European streets and squares for generations. They echo those around the world who fight for their dignity still. These Ukrainians rejected a government that was stealing from the people instead of serving them, and are reaching for the same ideals that allow us to be here today.

None of us can know for certain what the coming days will bring in Ukraine, but I am confident that eventually, those voices for human dignity and opportunity, for individual rights and the rule of law, will triumph. I believe that over the long haul, as free nations and free people, the future is ours. I believe this not because of the strength of our arms or even the size of our economies, but rather because these ideals are true, and these ideals are universal.

Yes, we believe in democracy – with elections that are free and fair; independent judiciaries and opposition parties; civil society and uncensored information, so that individuals can make their own choices. We believe in open economies based on free markets and innovation; individual initiative and entrepreneurship; trade and investment that creates a broader prosperity. And we believe in human dignity – that every person is created equal, no matter who you are, or what you look like, or who you love, or where you come from. That's what we believe. That's what makes us strong.

Our enduring strength is also reflected in our respect for an international system that protects the rights of both nations and people – a United Nations and a Universal Declaration of Human Rights; international laws, and the means to enforce them. But we also know that these rules are not self-executing; they depend on people and nations of goodwill continually affirming them. That is why Russia's violation of international law – its assault on Ukraine's sovereignty and territorial integrity – must be met with condemnation. Not because we are trying to keep Russia down, but because the principles that have meant so much to Europe and the world must be lifted up.

Over the last several days, the United States, Europe, and our partners around the world have been united in defense of these ideals, and united in support of the Ukrainian people. Together, we have condemned Russia's invasion of Ukraine, and rejected the legitimacy of the Crimean referendum. Together, we have isolated Russia politically, suspending it from the G-8 nations, and down-grading our bilateral ties. Together, we are imposing costs through sanctions that have left a mark on Russia and those accountable for its actions. And if the Russian leadership stays on its current course, this isolation will deepen. Sanctions will expand. The toll on Russia's economy – and standing in the world – will only grow.

Meanwhile, the United States and our allies will continue to support the government of Ukraine as they chart a democratic course. Together, we are going to provide a significant package of assistance that can help stabilize the Ukrainian economy, and meet the basic needs of the people. Make no mistake: neither the United States, nor Europe, has any interest in controlling Ukraine. We have sent no troops there. What we want is for the Ukrainian people to make their own decisions, just like other free people around the world.

Understand, this is not another Cold War we are entering into. After all, unlike the Soviet Union, Russia leads no bloc of nations, no global ideology. Nor does the United States, or NATO, seek any conflict with Russia. Indeed, for more than 60 years, we have come together in NATO—not to claim other lands, but to keep nations free. What we will do – always – is uphold our solemn obligation, our Article 5 duty, to defend the sovereignty and territorial integrity of our allies. And in that promise we will never waver; NATO nations never stand alone.

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