In Keynote Speech, Obama Marks A Quarter-Century Of Polish Democracy
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From NPR News this is ALL THINGS CONSIDERED. I'm Robert Siegel.
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And I'm Audie Cornish. President Obama is in Brussels this evening, where he's meeting with other world leaders. The get-together was originally supposed to take place in Russia but it was relocated and downsized to exclude Vladimir Putin, after Russia's takeover of Crimea earlier this year. Earlier today, President Obama said the U.S. will never accept what he calls Russia's occupation of Crimea - adding that the U.S. will support the rest of Ukraine as it tries to determine its own future. The president was speaking in Poland, which is celebrating its own escape from Soviet domination 25 years ago. NPR's Scott Horsley reports.
SCOTT HORSLEY, BYLINE: Thousands of people gathered at Warsaw's Royal Square this morning to celebrate a milestone in Polish history, and the world's. President Obama joined the chorus of praise for Solidarity leader, Lech Walesa, whose shipyard strike became a movement, and forced Poland's first free election on this date, 25 years ago.
PRESIDENT BARACK OBAMA: And when the votes were counted, it was a landslide victory for freedom.
HORSLEY: It was the beginning of a remarkable summer and the beginning of the end of communism in Europe. Within five months of that Polish election, the Berlin Wall came crumbling down.
OBAMA: We must never forget that the spark for so much of this revolutionary change for this blossoming of hope was lit by you, the people of Poland.
HORSLEY: Poland has thrived over the last quarter-century. But Obama says that progress can't be taken for granted, nor is freedom guaranteed. Today, he argues, that heirs of Poland's Solidarity movement can be found next door in Ukraine. And he says they need support from the West just as Poland did a generation ago.
OBAMA: And as we've been reminded, by Russia's aggression in Ukraine, our free nations cannot be complacent in pursuit of the vision we share - a Europe that is whole and free and at peace. We have to work for that. We have to stand with those who seek freedom.
HORSLEY: Obama met this morning with Ukraine's president-elect, Petro Poroshenko, who is due to be sworn in on Saturday. Afterwards, Poroshenko thanked the U.S. and other allies for helping to support Ukraine as an independent sovereign state.
PRESIDENT-ELECT PETRO POROSHENKO: The whole world demonstrate the solidarity in Ukraine in not accepting the aggression in Crimea and not accepting this whole fake referendum, and not accepting the annexing of the part of Ukrainian territory.
HORSLEY: The situation in Ukraine tops the agenda of tonight's G-7 meeting. Leaders are considering what might trigger additional economic sanctions against Russia, as well as steps Europe can take to reduce its dependence on Russian oil and gas. Andy Kuchins of the Center for Strategic and International Studies in Washington says it is not enough to simply punish Russia for its interference in Ukraine. The allies also need to find ways to prop up the new government in Kiev.
ANDY KUCHINS: The crux of the game is - is if Ukrainian sovereignty is maintained, that's a big win and that is a major loss for Mr. Putin.
HORSLEY: While Putin was pointedly left off this week's G-7 guest list, he will meet privately with the leaders of Britain, France and Germany. Obama also expects to run into Putin at Friday's ceremony marking the 70th anniversary of D-Day. He says the Russian leader has a choice to make.
OBAMA: If, in fact, we can see some responsible behavior by the Russians over the next several months, then I think it is possible for us to try to rebuild some of the trust that's been shattered during this past year. But, I think it is fair to say that rebuilding that trust will take quite some time.
HORSLEY: Meanwhile, Obama says the U.S. will stand with the people of countries that are simply trying to choose their own destiny. Scott Horsley, NPR News, Brussels.