- The Washington Times - Wednesday, September 3, 2014

Even as Ukraine and Russia announced a fragile cease-fire, President Obama on Wednesday delivered a stern message to Russian Vladimir Putin, vowing that Moscow’s “outdated thinking” and distorted view of the world will be met head-on by an alliance of democracies around the world.

Speaking in the Estonian capital of Tallinn before heading to a NATO summit in Wales, Mr. Obama declared that Russia’s aggression against Ukraine merely proves that Russia is losing influence in the world and is unable to deliver for its own citizens.

“Many Russians have become convinced that the actions taken by their government are 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,” Mr. Obama said. “It only shows that unrestrained nationalism is the last refuge of those who cannot or will not deliver real progress for their people at home.”

The president spoke just after meeting with the leaders of Estonia, Latvia and Lithuania, with the crisis in Ukraine the main topic of discussion. It also will be a key topic at the NATO summit.

The summit comes as Ukraine and Russia have reached a cease-fire deal, though Mr. Obama said it’s too soon to know whether the agreement is legitimate.

Ukrainian President Petro Poroshenko’s office released a statement Wednesday saying that “mutual understanding was reached regarding the steps that will contribute to the establishment of peace” with neighboring Russia. No further details were released.

While Russian President Vladimir Putin has indicated he wants to find a way out of the ongoing crisis, Russian-backed rebels in eastern Ukraine have brushed aside previous cease-fire deals and continued to clash with Ukrainian troops.

Mr. Obama said it will be up to Russia, and pro-Russian separatist forces wreaking havoc in eastern Ukraine, to determine whether the latest deal is a permanent one.

“It’s too early to tell what the cease-fire means. We haven’t seen any details,” he said earlier Wednesday morning at a press conference alongside Estonian President Toomas Hendrik Ilves. “We have consistently supported the effort of President Poroshenko to achieve a meaningful cease-fire that could led to a political settlement of the conflict. So far it hasn’t held, either because Russia has not been serious or has pretended it is not controlling the separatists. And the separatists, when they thought it was to their advantage, have not abided by the cease-fire. So we haven’t seen a lot of follow-up on so-called announced cease-fires.”

Mr. Obama also directly addressed young Estonians, saying they must hold fast to their free and fair democracy, even as Russia clings to the days of the old Soviet empire and promotes violence and unrest in Ukraine.

“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 into the notion that peace and security may be beyond our grasp,” he said. “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.”